Category Archives: Up in the stands

Belgium’s golden generation embark on World Cup opportunity (video)

Belgium have never been classed amongst the powerhouses of international football, often left to simmer in the backwaters together with the nations that rarely manage to qualify for World Cups and European Championships. The spotlight probably won’t even be on them when they meet Wales in Cardiff this weekend for the opening match of qualification Group A for the World Cup in Brazil in two years’ time.

Despite home-nation Wales being the obvious interest with Chris Coleman’s dubious form with the previously promising squad he inherited from Gary Speed being the main focus as perennial failures Wales start the campaign that looked so rosy when under the arm of their now deceased ex-manager, it makes Belgium’s secondary role rather odd considering the spectacular array of talent they now possess. If Sven Goran Eriksson’s England of David Beckham and co. were the original “Golden Generation”, Belgium’s current line-up take that billing and give it then-some; that this batch of talent has fertilised at the same time is a coincidence that can be filed under the bizarre.

Many eyes will be on Zenit St Petersburg’s new signing of £30 million plus, Axel Witsel, who provides the spine of Belgium’s midfield together with Porto’s Steven Defour who has caught the eye from Sir Alex Ferguson in the past. Timmy Simons, their fellow midfielder of 94 caps, towers above a rather youthful squad with 35 years of age, the wise-head together with Bayern Munich’s 34 year old Daniel Van Buyten.

Supporters of a Premier League heritage will be more familiar with captain Vincent Kompany, title-winning skipper at Manchester City, Everton’s Kevin Mirallas and Marouane Fellaini, Chelsea’s spectacular-looking Eden Hazard, Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen and Tottenham’s two new signings, Moussa Dembele and versatile defender Jan Vertonghen.

With youngsters like Chelsea’s Romelu Lakaku, Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne, all currently away from Stamford Bridge on loan, adding exuberance to the squad, things are looking very rosy indeed, quite apt for the Rode Duivels of northern Europe.

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Stoke again provide the test for Arsenal’s folly

De Ja Vu does not often come as clear as Arsenal being in a perceived crisis having just sold their best players in the days building up to the new season, the accusations of a lack of ambition sounding like a broken record to Arsene Wenger now who has battled on for too long under the roof of strained resources and a sensible wage structure that, in the face of more affluent competition, renders trophies out of reach.

Yet, Wenger battles on again with a new look team post 37 goal Robin Van Persie and Alex Song, just like he did following the departures of Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas as they ventured off to seek more silverware, the Frenchman seemingly undeterred by his rebel player’s lack of faith in his vision that he believes will return the Gunners back to their non-too-distant good old days in a footballing world dominated by financial obscenity.

Signings of Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud suggests Wenger is unwilling to compromise on his preaching of highly technical European talent just yet, preferring not to follow the path of the ideology that has been the downfall of Arsenal in recent years; Chelsea’s possession of the fierce brute Didier Drogba for example, or Manchester City’s mix of Eden Dzeko’s height and Yaya Toure’s steam-train drive with the exotic fluency of Nasri and David Silva. Wenger prefers the Cazorla type, the 5ft 6 inch attacking schemer who proceeds to appear so quaint in the face of the stereotypical Premier League defender, the impressively built rock who sits at centre-half in the majority of Premier League teams.

It is at the home of Wenger’s next opponent, Stoke City, where the anti-Arsenal blueprint has been put together with fine detail; the basic game plan of “rough ‘em up lads, get amongst them and give them a good kicking, their little players won’t like it up ‘em!” Of course, it is harsh to brand Stoke as this type of team, Tony Pulis has utilised their strengths which just happen to be a physical team that centres around an aerial threat, but the ignorant amongst us may forget they also play a bit of football too, the width of Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington and a summer of activity that has seen Pulis land Michael Kightly and Tom Huddlestone, two creative forces who enjoy a comfort with the ball, should be enough to put pay to labels of the one-dimensional.

But, despite Stoke’s evolution from their rigid style that Pulis advocated to consolidate their position in the top league, a trip to the Britannia would be the last thing on Wenger’s list of wishes this weekend as he looks to get Arsenal going, after a rather disappointing opening day stalemate with Sunderland at the Emirates, in yet another season of transition.

Since Stoke’s return to the top flight in 2008, Arsenal’s record in the Potteries reads played 5, lost 3, drawn 1 and won 1, with the sole victory being marred by Ryan Shawcross’ unfortunate leg-breaking tackle on Aaron Ramsey. Pulis duly adopted the style Sam Allardyce patented when playing Arsenal with Bolton, to intimidate them with quick pressing and direct football and earned two Premier League wins, 3-1 and 2-1, as well as a 3-1 victory in the FA Cup of 2010, a back-log that has been coloured by Wenger’s declaration that Pulis’ men are more adept to the sport of rugby than it is football.

Perhaps, instead of launching stinging barbs at Stoke’s on the pitch methods, Wenger could glance over at Pulis’ conduct off it, where he has created a settled unit able to compete well beyond its means, dates with Valencia in European competition were Potter’s mere dreams when languishing in tier 3 just a decade ago, now they are reality on the basis of Pulis’ shrewd management and intelligence. Stoke face little disruption in the off-season, steadily adding to the squad and improving on the quiet, while Arsenal are thrown open to the wolves and plunged into crisis via the Emirates’ over-active exit door.

When it is also factored in that Stoke lost just four games in the comfort of their own home last season, a record only bettered by those in the top 5, and you tend to believe things may get very tricky for Wenger’s disrupted squad who have once again been torn at the seams by player departure. Stoke press the ball brilliantly in midfield and Pulis will not ease on his instructions for the midfield not to allow Arsenal’s technical genius too much time in possession, and with players still alien to the pace and fitness demand of the Premier League, the Gunners may never have been so vulnerable to the direct nature of Stoke’s approach.

Cazorla, every inch Arsenal’s bright new hope in the Sunderland draw despite failing to find the cutting edge to break the Black Cat’s resolve, will not have faced anything like the turbulence he will experience in the setting of a highly-charged Britannia Stadium this Sunday, but Wenger will not shy away from playing him. And right there, could be the most obvious downfall of Wenger’s current Arsenal that struggles to find any identity and definition, apart from possibly, a “lack of ambition”.

Mark Hughes’ short term fix not a long term solution

Only at a club with the mental past history of Queens Park Rangers can you expect to see a manager react to an opening day defeat by replacing the whole back four. A Swansea whirlwind may have blown any pre-season optimism away from Loftus Road but to resort to a carpentry-like renovation of a defence and give it the IKEA treatment at the calling of just one game is not the answer, regardless of its margin of defeat.

The five goals Swansea scored last Saturday would be rendered irrelevant years down the line if Hughes had responded with the foresight of a man with faith and trust in his squad, yet it seems like the shot-term thinking that has engulfed the London club to a large degree over the past year or so has been replaced with another batch of short term thinking.

The back four that was ripped so terribly apart by Michael Laudrup’s Swansea on Saturday contained Nedum Onouha, a centre-back shoe-horned into right-back, Anton Ferdinand, a 27 year old centre-half, Clint Hill, a 33 year old who has spent the majority of his career below the Premier League, and Manchester United loanee Fabio at left-back. Yet, instead of reshuffling his current pack and making use of an already swelled squad, Hughes’ answer has been to go out and acquire Jose Bosingwa, the former Chelsea right-back who was deemed so poor at Stamford Bridge that the Champions League winners writ off their £16 million outlay on him by releasing him for nothing earlier in the summer, along with Real Madrid’s 34 year old centre-half Ricardo Carvalho and Spurs’ injury-ravaged Michael Dawson for the substantial fee of £10 million, where at 28 years old, that fee with have little re-sale value.

If that is not enough, the club has also expressed an interest in Inter Milan’s goalkeeping cast-off Julio Cesar to replace Robert Green who has seemingly severed Mark Hughes’ patience with just 90 minutes between the sticks. Once more, the Welsh manager seems to have abandoned any long-sight with a pursuit of a 32 year old Brazilian goalkeeper instead of persisting with the instinct that persuaded him to press ahead with the move for Green earlier in the summer. Hughes has adopted the scatter-gun approach to transfers for no real reason apart from a needless ruthless streak he seems intent on displaying and it is harming QPR because of it.

At Eastlands on the last day of the season in May, QPR played their own significant role in a phenomenal day that concluded with contrasting degrees of joy for eventual champions Manchester City and QPR, who managed to escape relegation by the premise of Stoke’s late equaliser against Bolton. Rangers had forty players on their books at this point, the majority of which had been placed on high wages with long-term contracts as a result of Neil Warnock’s hasty late dash around the transfer market after Tony Fernandes took control of the club late last summer. If they had fallen through the trap door, then all financial hell would have broken loose as the club would simply not have been able to bankroll the likes of Bobby Zamora, Joey Barton and Djibril Cisse, all reported to have been lured to Loftus Road on sizeable wages, in the surroundings of a lower league.

But they were handed another chance by the skin of their teeth and Hughes seemed to heed the lesson that nearly cost the club so dear “every club will look at their current staff and what they need to build and get stronger. That means a number of players will go as a result” said the manager in the build-up to the rollercoaster game in Manchester. And to a degree, he stayed true to his promise, releasing six players and lowering another two into the Championship for small fees. But another pressing issue was not the squad size, but the age of a squad that failed to field a single under-21 player throughout the whole of the last campaign. Half of the 40 players that Hughes began the summer with were over the age of 30 and the recruitment policy in the off-season months failed to take any notice, with 5 players, Andy Johnson, Ryan Nelsen, Park Ji-Sung, Rob Green and Jose Bosingwa all the wrong side of 30. Carvalho will be yet another one, tipping the scales of over 30s to under-25s in the first team squad at a shocking 19 to 3.

The ineptitude of QPR’s display in the debacle of the Swansea game will only be the tip of the iceberg for Hughes, for even if form does improve, a rise in results will not realise any ambition as Hughes has failed to build a squad that can continue to build on it in the long-run. It is hard to believe that amongst Hughes’ pile of personnel in his miss-mash formed squad, there are too many personalities bothered about the long-term fate of a club that can afford to pay them bumper wages. Neil Warnock paid for his panic and haste at the check-out when on his shopping spree and Hughes my do the same, although if he does remain in his job, there is little future to keep him there.

Strikers get another chance

In a week dominated by the long-awaited return of the domestic season together with the back-pages being awash with transfer rumour and speculation ahead of next week’s closing of the summer window, many stories are likely to resonate more than two transfer deals involving players who once held high stock in Europe only to see their star fall with the same ruthlessness they once displayed in front of goal on a regular basis.

The players in question here are Adrian Mutu, the Romanian attacker once of Chelsea who failed a drugs test through the use of cocaine, and former Inter Milan striker Adriano, once prolific, only to see his career beset by personal problems and injuries that pushed him to the brink of quitting the game.

As the likes of Notts County’s Lee Hughes have found, football is forever unlikely to turn its back on a player who still has the willingness and ability to make a difference to a potential suitor. Hughes, found guilty of death by dangerous driving back in 2004, has not put off Oldham and Notts County as any issues with a lack of morality in handing Hughes a rehabilitating living have been dismissed with a fruitful goals return for both clubs since his release from prison.

But of course, it is hard to make similarities between the cases of Adriano and Mutu to that of Hughes for they are a lot less severe, but nonetheless an indication of the sport’s refusal to cast aside the individuals who experience such problems off the pitch. There can be only explanation into why there is still a demand for QPR’s Joey Barton, a player blighted by angst and poor behaviour both in and out of the realm of football, while he honours a 12 match ban for violent conduct; regardless of football’s problems with ethics and morality, there is always a place for those who have their talent betrayed by stupidity, perhaps in the naïve hope they may be encouraged to start on the straight and narrow in fresh surroundings.

At the very top level however, it is unlikely to be the case, explaining why Mutu and Adriano have had to find homes in footballing backwaters. Mutu has moved to French Ligue 1 side Aj Ajaccio after his release from Serie B side Cesena, the dullest of ignominy for a player who was once hitting 18 goals from 31 games at Parma to earn his Premier League move. Yet, it is a better prospect than the striker may have feared when FIFA ordered him to pay nigh on £18 million in compensation to Chelsea for failing a doping test, or even when he failed a second doping test playing for Fiorentina in 2010. Still the player scores goals, he hit 54 in five years on the banks of Florence and another 8 for Cesena, this has proved to be of more appeal to Ajaccio than the problems that have chased him off the field.

The same liberal acceptance has befallen Adriano at Flamengo in a league that has seemingly become a cushion for Brazilians when their powers begin to decline in Europe. Robinho, Ronaldinho and the original Ronaldo have all returned there in recent years for differing reasons, whether it is loss of form or personal issues. It is both of those that have engulfed Adriano who, at 30 years of age, should be at the height of his powers. However, “the Emperor” as he was known around the same time he was topping the scoring charts in 2004 Copa America and 205 Confederations Cup, has undergone such a sharp drop that Corinthians decided to cut their losses on the striker after his weight problems saw him swell to over the 100 kilogram mark; he ended up making just 7 appearances in his on year spell at the Sao Paulo club.

But Flamengo have failed to see the attraction in watching a former hero in Adriano be cast to the wilderness at a relatively early age and have decided to take a punt on the striker who scored 19 goals during his last spell with Flamengo in 2009, handing him a “productivity deal” in the hope he may be able to rediscover some of the form from his earlier days that has warranted his decline as such a footballing shame.

These two transfers will not pull up any trees as multi-million pound transfers of Luka Modric and Robin Van Persie take precedence in domestic waters, but they should go someway to restoring faith in football’s streak of acceptance in a community that refuses to let a talent rot should he have something to offer. While not making the headlines anymore, Mutu and Adriano deserve to make a living, or at least have a shot at making a living, again in the sport they have been blessed at being good at.

A return to where the heart isn’t for Steve Kean

Blackburn’s attempt to bounce back to the Premier League will return to Ewood Park on Wednesday night, the place that provided Steve Kean with some of the ugliest scenes he has had to endure during a horrific tenure as Rovers’ boss. Kean hasn’t been back at the ground since a 1-0 defeat to Wigan hammered the final nail in Blackburn’s top tier coffin against a backdrop of vitriolic abuse that poured from the stands and threatened to overspill at the final whistle.

The inexperienced manager, rather admirably, stood up to the waves of fans who looked to vent their frustration over a year of boardroom ineptitude and mystery on the helpless man in the dugout, and still, 3 months later, Kean remains in the hot seat, still refusing to turn his back on the job he has shown no signs of justifying he should be in.

The summer has refused to buckle to the endless stream of discontent that emanates from Ewood Park on a regular basis; Rovers’ Global Advisor Shebby Singh has broken off from Venky’s universal loyalty to Kean in order to say that the 44 year old should be sacked if he loses three games at the start of the season. Singh has since relented after public criticism from Kean and his employers, but the first signs of the hierarchy’s disillusionment with the manager were clearly there, however illogical, there seems to be no sense to the onlooker with the approach to letting a coach relegate a side only to sack him if results aren’t flowing just three games later.

The manager, the owners and even Shebby Singh have seen eye to eye in trying to promote a return to the act that everybody associated with Blackburn Rovers are indeed in perfect harmony as they embark on a new season in the Championship, their first in the second tier for eleven years. Optimism may have even been raised by an active summer in the transfer market, signing the experience of Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu and Nuno Gomes to add seasoned quality to a squad that has undergone radical change since the Kean/ Venky’s axis began, another ten players have departed during this summer.

Leon Best and Colin Kazim-Richards have also been acquired to add more firepower to a front-line that relied so heavily on the now gone Yakubu last season. Richards, on loan from Galatasaray, has a point to prove in England following his exile to his native Turkey, whilst Best represents a good piece of business should he replicate the decent form he showed when filling in for Newcastle’s delightful strike-force of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse during the African Cup of Nations last January before injury hit. Such a raft of sensible signings have been in contrast to the hesitancy showed in January when, with relegation looming clearly on the horizon, Venky’s granted Kean just £2 million to sign the obscure talents of Bradley Orr and Anthony Modeste.

An opening day 1-1 draw with Ipswich, Kazim-Richards with the opening goal only to see an own goal from Jason Lowe deny Rovers all three points, would have been met with frustration by Kean and the Rovers fans who wanted to get off the mark with a win, but a further degree of patience will have to be preached at a side that should have grown tired with that commodity last season. Venky’s refused to listen to supporter’s demands however and remained loyal to Kean, now they are about to discover, against Steve Bruce’s Hull City who are also facing a big year in their quest to return to the Premier League, whether the Ewood Park faithful are quite so willing to forgive, forget, and look to the future that has been shaped by the boardroom they have found it so hard to trust. 

The Andre Villas Boas renovation hits Spurs

As if undeterred from his experiences at Chelsea where his attempts at radical change without waiting for the commodity of father time to have his say were stubbornly rebuffed by his playing staff with such determination that his future fell before them, Andre Villas-Boas is willing to go down the same route at Spurs in a desperate attempt to stamp his own identity on his new squad.

It is far too simple to say that a defeat to Newcastle on the opening day of the league season would have been the catalyst for Villas-Boas to believe his Spurs squad is in obvious need of being placed under the knife, yet it must be from that 2-1 loss that rammed home to the Portuguese coach that funds must be raised in order to address the failings that were in obvious effect; the distinct lack of fire-power underneath Jermain Defoe being an obvious cause for concern, plus the lack of creative drive from a midfield that is 99.9% sure to be short of Luka Modric when the transfer window shuts in ten days’ time.

So, just like his attempts at overhauling his Chelsea squad that blew dramatically back in his face with the phasing out of Frank Lampard and the eventual Champions League hero Didier Drogba, plus the thoughtless dismissal of Alex and Nicolas Anelka, Spurs are now watching it happen to them. Defender Sebastien Bassong has been the first to go, rather understandably for a defender who has been blighted by injuries at White Hart Lane and for a decent fee, a club record deal for Norwich to the tune of £5.5 million. Then, strangely, Michael Dawson has been allowed to follow his fellow centre-half through the exit door, this time to QPR for a £9 million fee. Such a deal will represent good business for Spurs who will collect a rather attractive sum of money for a centre half who also has a history with injuries; he played just 13 times for Spurs last season as problems with his ankle surfaced.

Now to cash in a decent slice of cash for two centre-halves with fitness issues will be particularly appealing to Daniel Levy who will be looking to tighten the purse strings following the lavish spending of Villas Boas’ predecessor Harry Redknapp, but their extradition has all the air of the Villas Boas rashness about it, to quickly dispense with a pair of players without properly casting his eye over their talents. There must be more to Michael Dawson for instance, whom Redknapp saw fit to grant the White Hart Lane captaincy back in 2010 in a year he was named the club’s player of the year, than to be cast aside without appearing in a competitive game for the new coach. Plus, with Dawson’s departure, it now leaves Spurs with four centre-halves, Younes Kaboul and Jan Vertonghen who are both adept enough, then with an injury-prone William Gallas and Steven Caulker, who has just one Premier League season with Swansea to his name, as cover.

The manager may have covered himself with enough resources in order to ensure the departures of Bassong and Dawson will be as soft as can be and arguably, it is sensible to watch them go whilst they are still carrying decent price-tags, but it is another example of Villas Boas being particularly unforgiving when it comes to trimming his staff. Reported to be next on the list are Tom Huddlestone and Giovanni Dos Santos who have both failed to be earn regular playing time in recent seasons, whilst the seemingly forgotten David Bentley is continuously linked with MK Dons. Steven Pienaar and Niko Krancjar have previously left this summer to ease the swelling of a team left behind by Redknapp, but while Gylfi Sigurdsson has been brought in, it can be argued that with a further 3 midfielders to leave, together with Modric, Spurs will leave themselves thin on the ground in that area, especially if a proposed move for Joao Moutinho, with the clock already ticking, fails to materialise.

Emmanuel Adebayor, a striker to ease the burden off Jermain Defoe, has been signed from Manchester City following his impressive loan spell of last year which carried 17 goals in 33 games as Villas Boas’ spending spree begins to kick-start after a single weekend of persuasion and a summer of slow action to which only Sigurdsson and Vertonghen have been the only imports. But even Adebayor’s arrival has had to be rubber-stamped through a complex financial deal that puts the selling club out of pocket more than it does Spurs. Levy will understand the need for Villas Boas to improve his squad, this was after all a team that centred around a main core of a small number players last year and relied upon them to the extent they faded badly towards the end of the season, plus with the likelihood of Modric’ exit increasing by the day, any restriction of Villas Boas spending seems to be of irrational folly.

The chairman has relented it seems, but not without the compromise of selling players first and draining down the transfer window until it reaches the dregs of value as clubs panic in the face of the pound signs being flashed in front of their eyes. Yet, Villas Boas has done the quick sell and hastily buy practice before to negative results, he will be hoping that in the next ten days that is likely to provide a hive of transfer activity for Spurs, this side adapts better to a drastic squad overhauling better than the one at his last job did.

Port Vale battle on despite the financial mess

One of the most enduring plotlines in the Football League soap opera is the events at Vale Park and the financial troubles that have encapsulated Port Vale that have frustrated all involved the club for as long as the mind can cast back to, and still shows no sign of letting off despite dominating the headlines at the Staffordshire club for the majority of the summer.

Despite finally seeing off the cancer of the last boardroom make-up of Bill Bratt and his party of suspect business men that ran the club to the brink of financial ruin, the Valiants are still hindered by the mysterious cloud that Bratt, together with Perry Deakin and Peter Miller, cast over the club. Inevitably, their passing was met by the club crashing into administration in March and news of players failing to be paid was just one branch of the murky labyrinth that spread from the heart of the club and threatened to engulf them with near extinction. Vale were slapped with a transfer embargo, the seemingly default course of action when a club fails to meet its tax duties which is what Vale struggled to do following the catastrophic £8 million collapse of the much lauded deal with Blue Sky International Investment that was supposed to be the justifying moment of the club’s past ownership.

It was a heavy reliance on the local council’s appreciation of the importance the club has to the local area and the Staffordshire community that kept it going to a large extent, on top of a loan of £2.25 million granted to the club some time ago, they agreed to underwrite the cost of its administration at the time when resources were stretched considerably by a number of politically driven cuts. Aware that the club could not rely on the public body for much longer, a new owner had to be found with due haste else it would risk liquidation, a fate that would be heart-breaking to all involved with an historic club ruined from inside by a corrupt group of individuals.

Clubs are now met with the firm hand of punishment when it doesn’t comply with HMRC as Rangers have so dramatically discovered up in Scotland, and the transfer embargo hindered manager Micky Adams’ attempts to improve his promotion chasing squad with a move for midfielder Chris Birchall. Adams grew infuriated with goings-on at Vale Park including the ten-point that hammered the nail in the coffin of Vale’s promotion hopes that looked so promising earlier in the season. News that the manager was seeking legal advice amid the club’s failure to pay his players grew into speculation that he would walk away from the Burslem club for the second time which really would have left a damaging mess considering it has been Adams experience and calming assurance that has contributed largely to Vale’s relative consolidation on the pitch during difficult times; despite the deduction, they still managed to finish in the comfortable regions of League Two’s mid-table last season with a high optimism that the last board hang-over was long gone and it would emerge from the summer in a position to make a significant challenge for promotion from the basement division.

Adams indeed stayed and local business man Mo Chaudry was presented with the chance to finally follow through on his desire to buy the club, but once he failed to come good with the money, angry that other bidders were allowed to remain anonymous, it opened the door for little known Keith Ryder to make his interest in the club a little more concrete. Ryder had history of investing in the club, loaning them £100,000 back in January to ease cash flow problems, and early dealings with supporters in the takeover process to which he appeared amicable and communicative, things were beginning to look very positive as Vale approached the new season. Yet, as now synonymous with this whole dark episode in Burslem, Ryder began to experience turbulence during his attempts to buy the club. His money was ploughed into the club to fund a pre-season tour of Ireland, to fund July’s wage bill and to hand Micky Adams a bigger transfer budget from which he managed to stretch the wage bill enough to acquire the likes of Jennison Myrie-Williams, Ashley Vincent, Chris Neal, Richard Duffy, Darren Murphy and Ben Williamson all on free transfers.

It was another free transfer, that of ex-Crewe defender David Artell that began to expose the holes in the Ryder takeover however. When it was clear the potential new owner could not find the £1.3 million to complete his deal for the club, contracts had to be re-negotiated and Artell saw enough to warrant his departure to Northampton Town, unhappy by his reduced terms. Following the collapse of the deal with Ryder, administrator Bob Young is still searching desperately for a new buyer with a growing concern that the club will eventually fall into liquidation within nine months.

With the club still in disarray, Adams guided the club into the new season with a squad unsure of their immediate futures, and managed a 3-0 victory over Barnet at the weekend. Louis Dodds, Tom Pope and a Myrie-Williams penalty ensured the convincing victory to indicate it may be another season of modest achievement against the odds for Adams’ men, but there is an underlying feeling, that still exists after 18 long months, that all the efforts of the fans, the council and the manager who has attracted some deserved respect for his loyal persistence, could all be in vein. A decent opening day win of a season that could well be, as an ever-growing prospect, Vale’s last in the Football League.

Football sees greatness on different degrees (Video)

As with all sporting disciplines, some will reach the ultimate pinnacle with an incredible talent and an unerring dedication to the training and practice that it takes to be the very best in the field, while others will disappear in their wake to be introduced to the cusp of failure. A sub-plot to the London Olympics has been Michael Phelps re-affirm his dominance as the king of the swimming pool with 22 Olympic medals to his name. He is at the very top of his sport, just like Mo Farah earned his crown as the king of long-distance running. In individual sports, few will remember the people who came lower than third, but football, as a team sport, is a very different animal.

The same pyramid-like hierarchy exists however; for Phelps read Barcelona’s Lionel Messi or Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo as they both continue to smash records with a wondrous consistency, they are the ones, in a group with the likes of Spain’s domineering generation of pass-masters and an assortment of big names, who are placed on a pedestal by the spectators of all generations who view them in such high regard.

Yet, in a setting where the team mostly takes precedence over the individual, few players slip into the barren area of forgotten lands, regardless of whatever happens to their careers they will always have a memory that will appeal to at least the smallest sample of supporters. Take Jimmy Glass, a goalkeeper who spent the majority of his career in the non-leagues, who immortalised himself into Football League folklore with a stoppage time goal to keep Carlisle United up in 1999. Take Ian Ashbee, server of nine years at Hull City who captained them on a marvellous odyssey to the Premier League, he will never be forgotten by the Tiger’s faithful despite now being on the scrapheap following an unsuccessful spell at Preston.

Take Matt Le Tissier or Steve Bull who shunned any opportunity for medals to stay loyal to their beloved clubs, Southampton and Wolves respectively, they now hold true legendary status with each club without the same legacy of someone like Ryan Giggs, a legend of Manchester United, has forged from hoovering up every trophy available to him in a glittering career. Le Tissier, Bull, Ashbee and Glass are hardly the most revered of names, yet they are installed fully into their own unique greatness to a particular bunch of fans.

In football, in an adverse effect from the one that Phelps has experienced from his unbelievable medal haul, gongs don’t always necessitate greatness. In football, greatness can come from a single turn of fate as Diomansy Kamara found after his last-twenty minute brace kept Fulham in the Premier League in 2008, or even Federico Macheda’s twist and shot that imprinted him into Manchester United history when he provided the catalyst for their 2009 Premier League title win against Aston Villa.

Neither career of Kamara or Macheda has been littered with excellence since their golden moments, but they will remain immersed in the history of Fulham and Manchester United for the simple flick of a boot that changed the course of fate in seconds. As fans look back, some names will be picked out as being “great” on a personal level of affection, in totally different circumstances to the permanent level of excellence the likes of Ronaldo and Messi subscribe themselves to. They have achieved greatness and continue to push back its boundaries, but as football continuously shows, greatness is available to anybody.