29 September 2012

How to undermine your manager

Steve Kean has effectively been sacked by Blackburn Rovers.

Steve Kean has been forced out of the manager's job at Blackburn Rovers. It says a lot about how the situation at Blackburn has developed that, 12 months ago, his axing would not have been described as harsh.

Technically, Kean has not been sacked, although he said that he had been "forced to resign". That's another way of saying that he jumped because he knew that the owners were going to push him off.

To say that Kean's two years in charge at Ewood Park were not exactly successful would be putting it a little lightly. When Sam Allardyce was sacked in December 2010 and replaced by the Scotsman, co-owner Anuradha Desai declared that she wanted to see Blackburn in the "top four or five places" of the Premier League. Appointing someone with next to no managerial experience to the top job was never going to be a wise move.

The Venky's company that bought Rovers dreamed of seeing David Beckham and Ronaldinho pull on the blue and white shirts that adorned the 1995 Premier League champions. Instead, they got David Goodwillie and Simon Vukcevic. Messrs Ferguson, Wenger and Mancini must have been quaking in their boots.

Inevitably, the mess that Venky's got Blackburn into culminated in relegation to the Championship. It would have been understandable if they sacked Kean there and then. He had failed to save a team that looked perfectly capable of staying up, and at Ewood Park, he was about as popular as Colonel Gaddafi in Scotland.

But they kept him on... and now, at the back end of September, even though the anger of Blackburn fans towards him has not died, the team is currently 3rd in the Championship with just one defeat to their name. That solitary loss came against Middlesbrough only eight days ago.

Venky's were looking for another excuse to sack him. But Blackburn fans, and football fans in general, can see right through them. It has been proven that the Indian owners' knowledge of English football is limited, and the way that they have treated Kean in recent months is, in the most lenient terms, not very nice.

During the summer, they appointed former Malaysia international Shebby Singh as their new director of football. He immediately endeared himself to two key figures at the club by saying Kean would be sacked if Rovers lost three games in a row early in the season, and referred to Norwegian midfielder Morten Gamst Pedersen as a "pensioner". If I were Desai or Venkatesh Rao, I would have sacked Singh on the spot.

Singh stayed on, and earlier this week, he said that the situation with Kean "gets worse by the day". When he said those words, the 44-year-old knew that his game was up.

I'm sure that Steve Kean woke up today a relieved man. Relieved that he doesn't have to suffer abuse from the dwindling crowds at Ewood Park. Relieved that he doesn't have to read stories about him in the papers every day. Relieved that he doesn't have to fly to India every couple of weeks to speak to the owners when he could easily be taking his team through training drills.

I hope he realises now that he is not cut out for football management. He is certainly a capable coach, and would fare quite well as an assistant manager, but he does not have the skills required to be a number 1.

As for Blackburn Rovers, the club's financial situation is worsening as sponsors join supporters in staying away from the club. They aren't in debt yet - after all, they paid £8million for Jordan Rhodes last month - but they only have to look at Portsmouth to see just how bad things can get for an ambitious club with completely the wrong owners.

Most of the Blackburn faithful want the chicken farmers to cluck off very soon.

28 September 2012

England are five alive in Shield

England captain Jordan Rossiter was among the scorers.

England began their Victory Shield defence with an emphatic but unsurprising victory over Northern Ireland in Dungannon.

Kenny Swain's boys showed just why they have won or shared every title from the last 11 years, with several of them really catching the eye in the opening game of this year's competition.

Northern Ireland never really looked like getting a home point, but England took a while to get into their stride. Their first great opportunity came on 17 minutes, when Adam Armstrong's header was spilled by the unconvincing NI keeper Brett Long and Luke Amos couldn't quite control the rebound well enough to put it in.

Four minutes later, England made the breakthrough. Demetri Mitchell's corner was headed towards goal by Isaiah Brown, and Liverpool centre-back Tom Brewitt was on hand to score with a striker's finish.

As the game approached the half-hour mark, that goal was bettered by an absolutely wonderful one from Manchester United's Mitchell. Taking the ball from just inside the England area, he dribbled straight through the Irish defence before hitting a peach of a left-footed strike into the top corner.

Northern Ireland barely threatened the England goal, and Freddie Woodman's comfortable catch from a Jonathan Smith effort summed up Ireland's performance in that area of the pitch.

In the last of the 40 minutes of the half (as there are in Victory Shield matches), England got a third goal. Armstrong found his captain Jordan Rossiter to his left, and the Liverpool midfielder hit the corner with another excellent strike from the Three Lions.

The second half saw the introduction of two players who would play starring roles in England's inevitable fourth goal. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson's cross into the area was headed away by an NI defender, but Armstrong neatly flicked the ball towards Callum Cooke, leaving the Middlesbrough man to easily tap it past Long.

On 58 minutes, after having a couple of close-range efforts blocked, Patrick Roberts played in Cooke, and once again, there was nothing Long could do other than pick the ball out of his net. It was Cooke's second goal of the night, and it seems that the Middlesbrough academy might have yet another gem in its hands.

To be fair to Northern Ireland, they did improve after conceding those five goals, but Woodman remained unthreatened and his clean sheet was never in doubt.

The gulf between the sizes of the teams' respective talent pools was all too clear, and England could easily have matched the six goals they put past the hosts at Ballymena in 2008. Armstrong came close to getting a deserved goal for himself in the 68th minute, and Roberts had a few decent chances as well. Borthwick-Jackson nearly put the icing on the cake in the penultimate minute with a shot which just went over.

After such a convincing victory, it will take a brave man to predict that Swain and his latest crop of players won't get their hands on the Victory Shield once again this year.

Prior to kick-off, there was a moment's applause for the late Ulster rugby union player Nevin Spence, who was part of Northern Ireland's squad for the 2005 Victory Shield.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Long; Edgar, Byers, Quigley, Foster; B Kennedy, Law, Hoey (Barton); Thompson (Doherty), Smith (Mooney), Fallon.
Booked: Law 50.

ENGLAND: Woodman; Lowe (Borthwick-Jackson), Maghoma, Brewitt, Moore (Kenny); Amos (Rashford), Dowell (Cooke), Rossiter; Mitchell, Brown (Roberts), Armstrong.
SCORERS: Brewitt 21, Mitchell 30, Rossiter 40, Cooke 47,58.

TDTR Man of the Match: Tom Brewitt (England). He was a solid presence at the heart of the English defence, and opened the floodgates with a well-taken strike.

26 September 2012

2012 Victory Shield preview

Last year's crop of England schoolboys lift the Victory Shield.

The 2012 edition of the schoolboy football Victory Shield competition gets underway tomorrow night.

If you are unaware of the Victory Shield, it's an Under-16s competition contested by the four Home Nations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) towards the end of the year.

Each nation plays against each other once, with the team (or teams) with the most points at the end of the competition winning the shield. In this competition, there is no tie-break to determine the winners, so if the top teams have the same number of points, they share the shield.

The Victory Shield has been pretty much dominated by England in recent years. They have won or at least shared the shield every year since 2001. In terms of overall winners since the end of World War II, they are way out in front, with Scotland some distance behind. As for Wales and NI, they have just one outright win each, and the Welsh have shared a few times.

This is not just some kids' football tournament where everybody gets a medal - this is real competition, and the alumni of this event reads like a who's who of British footballing greats. Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards, Kenny Dalglish, Billy Bremner, Mark Hughes, Ian Rush, Harry Gregg - they all started their international careers in this very competition.

When Sky Sports started broadcasting the Victory Shield (they now sponsor it as well), we were introduced to some of today's biggest names when they were schoolboys. Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney both started out here, as did Darren Fletcher and Craig Bellamy. In the late 1980's, England had a tricky winger called Ryan Wilson in their team - he would later represent Wales under the surname Giggs.

In more recent times, a dominant England team has featured players of the ilk of Daniel Sturridge (who was excellent in the first Victory Shield that I watched in 2003), Danny Rose, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Jack Rodwell, Jonjo Shelvey and Raheem Sterling, to name just seven of them.

The Scots' most promising talent to have come through the Victory Shield in recent years is arguably the Chelsea striker Islam Feruz, who I've tipped for greatness since his 2009 bow on this stage. Current Wales captain Aaron Ramsey was from the class of 2005, and during the same year, Jonny Evans' brother Corry played for Northern Ireland.

This year's crop were all born on or after 1 January 1997, making them 15 going on 16 at the oldest. It is far too early to judge just how good players this young are going to be at their peak, but there's always room for one or two to make names for themselves, like Mason Bennett did last year with England. Shortly after scoring his first Victory Shield goal, he made his senior debut for Derby County.

This year's fixtures are as follows:
27 September: Northern Ireland vs England
5 October: Scotland vs Wales
26 October: Scotland vs Northern Ireland
1 November: Wales vs England
23 November: Northern Ireland vs Wales
29 November: England vs Scotland

All of these matches will be screened live on Sky Sports, and The Daily Transfer Request will publish match reports for all six games as some new British footballing talent is unearthed.

If one of the players from this year's tournament goes on to become a football superstar, you read about them here first.

25 September 2012

Football Manager: Stealing my life since 1998

My eight-year-old self once managed Steve Jagielka at Shrewsbury Town.

Over the past 20 years, football fans who have wanted to see how they could do in the shoes of their club's managers have been able to do so, thanks to the genre-defining Championship Manager (and later Football Manager) series.

Back in 1992, two brothers - Paul and Oliver Collyer - decided to give the budding Alex Fergusons, Ron Atkinsons and Lennie Lawrences their chance to live their dreams by setting up Sports Interactive, and creating Championship Manager, a video game series that would go on to become not only the number 1 game of its type, but one of the best selling sports game series of all-time.

I first discovered CM back in 1998, when I was just eight years old. Here is a 14-year tale of how one series captured my imagination more than any other...

Championship Manager 3
This was the first SI game I ever played. One day, when my obsession with football was still in its infancy, I put in a PC Review CD which had the demo of this game, installed it, and took my first plunge into the waters of football management.

What team would I manage, though? I just randomly picked a team, which happened to be Shrewsbury Town in Division 3, and got started. My first session took me well past my bedtime - I had swallowed the game hook, line and sinker.

Bear in mind that I was but an 8-year-old kid at the time, and I had little idea where the players were meant to go position-wise, so the best result from by CM debut was, I believe, a 3-0 friendly defeat against Total Network Solutions. After eight league games, my Shrews were rock-bottom of the Football League with zero points out of a possible 24 (so things could be worse, eh, Peterborough United?). Then, I forgot my password and the save game was soon lost forever.

Steve Coppell: The only gaffer to spend less time at a club than Chris Fuller.

Championship Manager 99/00
The first CM game that was ever bought for me was the one directly after CM3 - CM 99/00. By this time, despite being a hardcore Gooner, I always wanted to start my CM careers big by taking over Manchester United. Of course, I was still very much on a learning curve, so I never won anything with the then Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League holders.

My first CM career took me to Manchester United (for 5 months), Scotland (I managed them at UEFA Euro 2000 and then quit), Charlton Athletic (3 months), Birmingham City (not even a week!), back to Shrewsbury (barely three weeks), Luton Town (two weeks), Sheffield United (four months) and finally, by 2003, Barnsley. However, I then made an accidental slip on the mouse, and it was bye bye save. Then again, I'd hardly been a resounding success, so it was probably for the best.

Some time later, when I'd learned how to put players in the correct positions, I started an enthralling save game managing England. How successful was I? Well, I won the 2002 World Cup, and then the 2004 European Championship, and by 2009, I was building and preparing a Three Lions team for an assault on the 2010 World Cup in China. But then the old Viglen that housed the save game died a death, and said game had to be put on hold for the time being. I still have the hard drive, so there is hope of me winning a second WC to well and truly trump Alf Ramsey.

Championship Manager 00/01
Now aged ten, I bought the next season's CM game, again starting first at Manchester United. After finishing a pathetic 3rd in the Premier League, I resigned and moved onto Bristol City. I'll probably get hate mail from Justin Lee Collins for saying this next bit, but I left City without even managing them for one match when the Birmingham job became available! The save game soon became stale and I lost interest...

...until, in my late teens, with the Viglen now kaput, I booted up my parents' laptop and reinstalled CM 00/01. My hopes to replicate my CM 99/00 success with England went so well that, er, I was knocked out at the 2002 World Cup group stages and got sacked! For the first time ever in a CM/FM game! After that, I took my first serious journey abroad my managing Boavista for almost a whole season, when they sacked me for not quite qualifying for Europe.

Afterwards, I took Walsall into the Premier League, then crossed the Midlands to try and do the same thing with Wolverhampton Wanderers. The save game is in its TENTH season (2009/2010) and, as things stand, my Wolves are in the Division 1 play-off zone. Can I do it? Wish me luck.

Championship Manager 01/02
I only played the demo of CM 01/02 (the last of the CM3 era games), and for the first time, I had a real go at managing Arsenal. It didn't exactly go to plan, so I spent the rest of my time on the demo experimenting in the English leagues.

A few years ago, CM 01/02 became abandonware and was made available for free download. I downloaded it a few days ago onto the parents' laptop and I'm hoping to get into a new save soon, possibly in Finland. (For some reason, on my epic 99/00 England save, Finland reached the 2002 World Cup Final!)

"We're in the Final!" One year too late, Dennis...

Championship Manager 4
For my 13th birthday, my parents got me the much-delayed but hotly-anticipated CM4, and I LOVED IT. Yes, there were so many bugs in the shipped version of the game, but once I installed the patch, there was no stopping me playing this game. Until the CD got a large crack in it.

I was gutted when that happened, because I was well into my second season at Millwall. In my very first season, I led the Lions to an emphatic victory in the Division 1 title race, and perhaps even more significantly, outdid Dennis Wise's real team by one year in reaching the FA Cup Final... and beating Aston Villa 2-0 in Cardiff!

How did Millwall fare in the Premier League? Well, put it this way. With ten games to go, when the CD committed suicide, we were 4th. Things were going so, so well, and I hope to buy a new copy of CM4 one day so I can discover just how far my team would have gone.

Championship Manager 03/04
Thanks to the delayed CM4, I never got past the first few weeks of the CM 03/04 demo. After this game, there was a monumental split between Sports Interactive and Eidos. Eidos kept the name 'Championship Manager' but made inferior management games, while SI continued to deliver the goods under the new franchise name 'Football Manager'.

Football Manager 2005
Well, I say they continued to deliver the goods. I really believed that Football Manager 2005 would be the best, er, football manager game I ever played. WRONG!

FM05 was so slooooow that getting through one in-game week felt like one real-life week. By December in the first season of my Millwall save, I was losing patience. Then the CD cracked. I bought a new CD, and it was still slow, slow, SLOW! I had enough, threw in the towel, and uninstalled the game

Worst. Football Manager. Ever.

Football Manager 2006
Managing Millwall (again) on the demo of FM06 was a far more satisfying experience than on FM05. The game ran like clockwork, and the results flowed as well. By the time the demo expired, my Lions were top of the Championship. In retrospect, this was the version of Football Manager that I most regret not buying.

Rob Elvins - buy him if you're a non-league team on FM07.

Football Manager 2007
Playing as Grays Athletic on the FM07 demo gave me the appetite to play the full version of the game. On the demo, I created a Grays team that was not only flying high in the Conference Premier but also consisted of some players who have had contrasting fortunes in their real careers. My star midfielder was Tim Sparv (now at Groningen), and my deadly strike force was that of the ex-West Bromwich Albion trainees Stuart Nicholson (Hebburn Town) and Rob Elvins (Worcester City). Happy days.

Not such happy days when I bought the full version, though. The save games corrupted at such a rate that I basically had to save my games three times to even have a chance of it not being ruined when I logged back on. The final straw for me was when, having just led a more Anglicised Arsenal to victory in the League Cup (something that Arsene Wenger has never done), the save game corrupted and I lost my trophy. Back in the case it went.

Football Manager 2008
I was so frustrated by FM07 that I tried to cure my Football Manager blues with FM08. Big mistake. Corrupted save games was again the main culprit for me not getting far beyond August 2007. My best effort was a save with Rwanda where, under the American pseudonym of Hank Sawyer, I got up to the 2008 African Cup of Nations. Then Hank's team got thumped by Cameroon and Hank committed suicide.

There was something interesting that came out of one holiday save that I had on FM08. By 2012, Portsmouth were playing at the state-of-the-art 'Spinnaker Stadium', were flying high in the Premier League, had money literally pouring out of their ears, and had reached the Final of the UEFA Champions League, where they took the lead against Real Madrid before ultimately losing 2-1. And no, I wasn't involved. How times change, eh?

Football Manager 2009 and Football Manager 2010
Thanks to the two abominations before them, FM09 and FM10 were both non-starters for me. I was so annoyed by SI back then (teenage angst, see) that I really considered moving over to the dark side and buying Eidos' Championship Manager 2010. I then read the reviews of the game on Amazon and Play.com, and was so encouraged by what others had to say that I slowly, backed, away, and never went back.

Football Manager 2011
FM11 was the game that rekindled my love affair with the Football Manager series. For the first time, I managed to get past three seasons in a full-blown FM career with, yes, Millwall. Early on in my fourth season, the Lions have started the campaign well as we finally hope to win promotion from the Championship. By the fourth season of my CM4 save, my Millwall might have been European champions! Frustrating, isn't it?

I also have a save game on the side with my hometown club, Romford. It's early doors in my first season (I've only just started this game) and Romford are second in the Isthmian League Division 1 North. The Premier League is at least seven seasons away.

Football Manager 2012
FM11 meant that, when FM12, I couldn't even rouse myself enough to get into the demo. I hadn't even managed to play a single match before it had been uninstalled from my laptop. I don't regret doing that, considering the number of bugs and extremely unrealistic events that I've read about happening in FM12 saves.

Football Manager 2013
This brings me on to the newest version of the series, which is expected to come out before Christmas, say SI. With new features such as directors of football, challenges, an improved match engine, and a Jim and Natalie-esque Deadline Day, they've already got me hooked. When the demo comes out, you can be sure that I (and hundreds of thousands if not millions of other wannabe coaches) will be downloading it before you can say Andre Villas-Boas!

Football Manager has been stealing my life for nearly 15 years, and they can continue to steal it for another 15 if they want to.

24 September 2012

Weekend reflections #5

After this weekend's Premier League games, The Daily Transfer Request todays looks at Everton's fantastic start to the season, the return of the morons, and the problems of zonal marking.

Everton are feeling good, thanks to the likes of Fellaini (afro).

Toffees targeting a breakthrough
Like Muse's cover of Feeling Good, Everton traditionally start off quietly before making loud noises later on.

But this season, they've been more like Wolfmother's Joker And The Thief. A 3-0 win away to another team that was quick out of the traps, Swansea City, has propelled David Moyes's men to third place in the table. And with the resources at their disposal, you can't rule Everton out of Champions League contention.

Moyes was without his marquee signing from January, Nikica Jelavic, through injury. He didn't really need the prolific Croatian, though, for he had two fantastic Belgians in his starting XI.

Late on in the first half, forward Kevin Mirallas hit the crossbar before converting the rebound to give Everton a 2-0 lead (their first goal was scored by Victor Anichebe). Then, eight minutes before time in the second, Marouane Fellaini nodded Leighton Baines's free-kick past the Swansea keeper, Michel Vorm. If the brilliant midfielder continues the form that he has started this campaign with, then he is an early contender for Player of the Year.

There was a major talking point about the first goal. Fellaini appeared to handle the ball with his forearm before setting up Anichebe. Having seen the incident, I'm inclined to agree, but Swansea can't really have too many excuses about their defending. After two defeats in a row, Swans boss Michael Laudrup has some work to do to regain that lost momentum.

Momentum is something that Everton have in spades now, plus they have top players in most positions. They have Tim Howard in goal, Baines at left-back, Steven Pienaar in midfield, the two Belgians of course, and Jelavic up front. Those players are good enough to challenge for starting places at some of the so-called 'big six' teams, and together, they make Everton an underrated but serious threat to the big boys.

Some Everton fans regularly lurch from demanding David Moyes's head on a pike to hailing him as the latest incarnation of Jesus Christ. I'm pretty sure that they're doing the latter right now.

Everton's next fixtures are against Southampton, Wigan Athletic and Queens Park Rangers - all winnable games. Don't be too shocked if, by the end of 21 October, Everton are in the top two. Could this be the year in which the Toffees show just how far they can go?

Mark Halsey received vile abuse for dismissing Liverpool's Jonjo Shelvey.

Some fans never learn
On the eve of Manchester United's trip to Liverpool, Sir Alex Ferguson wrote an open letter to United fans attending the game at Anfield pleading with them to be on their best behaviour.

Most of them were, and so were the players when it came to the pre-match handshake. United's Patrice Evra and Liverpool's Luis Suarez agreed to let bygones be bygones, and shook hands before kick-off.

There was also an emotional tribute to the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster (this was, of course, Liverpool's first home game since the truth was outed), and an equally brilliantly-observed minute's applause for the two police officers shot dead by Dale Cregan earlier in the week.

But then things began to get nasty. Some Red Devils fans could not stay angelic for any more than 13 minutes, after which they chanted at home supporters, "Where's your famous Munich song?"

38 minutes into the match, Liverpool had young midfielder Jonjo Shelvey sent off for a reckless tackle on Jonny Evans, who to be fair also went in two-footed. The referee who sent Shelvey off, Mark Halsey, was later subjected to cruel cancer-related taunts from a select few Liverpool fans on Twitter. Mark and his wife Michelle have both suffered from the disease, and out of respect, I will not repeat what was tweeted at him.

After the final whistle, the real nastiness kicked off. A small number of Liverpudlians made aeroplane gestures at United fans, clearly referencing the Munich disaster. Some of the United contingent retaliated, "Always the victims, it's never your fault." A few even chanted "Murderers" - a direct reference to the 1985 Heysel disaster.

For the record, Manchester United won 2-1, but both teams are losing the battle to weed out their most thuggish and moronic supporters.

Joleon Lescott makes Arsenal's zonal marking look completely hopeless.

Danger zonal
The goal that Arsenal conceded in their 1-1 draw against Manchester City once again exposed the flaws of their zonal marking system.

In the 39th minute, David Silva's corner into the Arsenal box was nodded in by Joleon Lescott, who left Gunners keeper Vito Mannone helpless.

The main reason why that goal was conceded was because of the zonal marking system, which is not a great strategy to use when defending corners. Arsenal had eight players in or around the six-yard box, but none of them had a close eye on Lescott, who ran towards Silva's delivery and beat the standing Thomas Vermaelen and the flailing Mannone to the header. After that, there was no way to prevent a goal.

Vermaelen trying to beat Lescott from a standing start was like, as Sky Sports News' Rob Wotton put it when in an interesting discussion with ex-Charlton Athletic manager Alan Curbishley, trying to beat Greg Rutherford at the long jump from a standing start. The Arsenal captain did not stand a chance because he had no forward momentum and Lescott had plenty.

I'll explain the main differences of zonal marking and man-to-man marking (or just man marking for short). Zonal marking is where defenders cover specific areas of the pitch. If an attacker moves into the area of the pitch where the defender is marking, he marks the attacker. When the attacker moves into another zone, the responsibility goes to the defender who is covering that zone.

Zonal marking is more flexible than man marking, which as the name suggests is a strategy in which defenders mark specific opponents rather than zones. Although widely used by German and Italian teams in the 1960s and 1970s, it is not widespread at top-level football nowadays, mainly because it affects the man-marking team's ability to attack fluidly.

However, man marking is a much better strategy to use when defending free-kicks or set-pieces, because you've always got someone close to a potential attacking threat. Zonal marking gives the attacking players more room for manoeuvre, as Rafael Benitez regularly found out to his cost when he managed Liverpool.

For these reasons, when I play football computer games, I generally use man marking most if not all of the time. I'm not saying that man marking is the perfect marking strategy, but when you're defending a corner at the home of the league champions, you can do much better than zonal.

A controversial leader

John Terry - a great leader, but not an example to follow.

Former England captain John Terry announced his retirement from international football last night, ahead of an FA disciplinary hearing which starts today.

Terry's decision to quit England now is the right one. His name has been dragged through the mud by a number of controversies, most notably the accusations of him racially abusing Queens Park Rangers' Anton Ferdinand. Although he was found not guilty in July after a trial at Westminster Magistrates' Court, if an FA inquiry finds otherwise, there'll be no question about him not playing for the Three Lions again.

A statement from Terry which was published last night was seen as one final dig at the FA, who have effectively taken the England captaincy away from him twice. The Chelsea skipper said, "I am making this statement in advance of the hearing of the FA disciplinary charge because I feel the FA, in pursuing charges against me where I have already been cleared in a court of law, have made my position with the national team untenable."

Being born at Barking and spending a great deal of his youth playing days at West Ham United, Terry - who moved to Chelsea when he was 14 - inevitably has been compared to Bobby Moore many times. But while Moore was a gentleman and one of England's great sporting heroes, Terry is neither. Yes, Moore did cheat on his wife, but he was never accused of something as serious as racism.

However, like Moore, Terry would - in a war situation - always give his own life to save his comrades. One moment that typified that was in the 2010 World Cup against Slovenia, in which Terry dived headfirst to block a shot from Zlatko Dedic, which had it gone in would have eliminated England at the group stage. As it happened, the Germans did for us in the very next game.

John Terry could never be accused of not giving 100% commitment for either his club or his country.

His international career began back on 3 June 2003, when he came on as a substitute against Serbia and Montenegro. You may remember that game as the one where the England captaincy was handed over with such regularity that even Emile Heskey got a go!

Terry was in Sven Goran Eriksson's squad for UEFA Euro 2004, and started in three of England's four matches in Portugal. Later that summer, he was made Chelsea captain, and you know how his club career continued from there.

When arguably in the best form of his career, Terry played in all of England's matches at the 2006 World Cup, after which he inherited the captain's armband from David Beckham. All was well at Chez Terry... until 2010, when he had an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the ex-girlfriend of his former Chelsea team-mate Wayne Bridge.

An angry Fabio Capello took away the captaincy from Terry ahead of that year's World Cup in South Africa. Being relegated to just a first-team player with England didn't affect his performances, because he was one of his country's better players at a pretty dismal tournament from an English point of view.

By now, a spate of injuries had meant that he couldn't replicate the form that in the mid to late-noughties made him one of the best, if not THE best, centre-backs in world football. However, he was still the undisputed rock in the Three Lions' defence. In March 2011, Capello saw reason to give him the England captaincy again, but seven months later came THAT incident with Ferdinand.

The Crown Prosecution Service charged him with racially abusing Ferdinand in December, and this February, the armband was again taken off him, this time directly by the FA. Capello was incensed, and resigned as England boss, allowing Roy Hodgson to take over for UEFA Euro 2012.

Before the finals, the main debate was over whether John Terry and Rio Ferdinand (Anton's brother) could ever appear again in the same England team. When the squad was announced, Ferdinand was omitted, and Terry was retained. His performances at the European Championship justified that decision, because again, he was infallible.

The last of 78 caps for England (which also included six goals) came against Moldova on 7 September. His decision to call it quits is not surprising, but why has he only now announced it? Why didn't he decide to just end it after the Euros, or when the FA announced in July that they were pressing charges?

Whatever the reason, the fact is that he is no longer available for his country, and Hodgson has a big hole to fill in the centre of his defence.

His statement brings a bitter end to his international career. But while he should be remembered as one of the great England defenders of recent years, his actions mean that he'll almost certainly be remembered for other, less savoury things.

22 September 2012

Same old story for Mourinho

Jose Mourinho has said that he wants to return to England one day.

It must be an easy job to be the editor-in-chief at the Daily Express.

It seems that every day, the editor tosses a coin. If the coin shows heads, then the Daily Express publish a front-page headline story about Princess Diana. If it's tails, the headline is about something which can, apparently, cause and/or prevent cancer.

Jose Mourinho must do something similar before he speaks to the press.

If the coin that he tosses turns up heads, then he publicly declares that he wants to return to England. If he decides to toss another coin and it comes up heads again, he'll say that he wants to be Chelsea manager again. If a third coin toss results in a third heads result, it's Manchester United.

Every now and then, Mourinho comes out with the same old "I'm coming back" statements, and the British press lap it up. But exactly how often does he do that?

27 JANUARY 2011
The Daily Mail: Jose Mourinho's tempestuous time at Real Madrid reached a spectacular crescendo last night with several incidents before, during and after his team's 1-0 Copa del Rey semi-final first leg win over Sevilla. Most notably, the former Chelsea boss revealed his desire to return to the Premier League, issuing a come-and-get-me plea to Manchester rivals City and United, as well as his old club.
The Special One: "I've decided to return to England. I have nothing prepared about my future - I just want to be happy in my work. I have no preferences about Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea. I just want to rediscover the joy."

22 FEBRUARY 2011
The Daily Mail: Jose Mourinho has offered his strongest hint yet that he would relish a return to the Stamford Bridge hotseat. Pressure is mounting on under-fire Italian boss Carlo Ancelotti following Chelsea's alarming lack of form that has seen last season's double winners lose a grip on their Premier League title and dumped out of the FA Cup.
TSO: "I love Chelsea. I was the happiest man when I was there. I was thinking I would be there all my life. So you never know. When I sign a contract, I sign with the intention to respect the contract and be happy."

23 MARCH 2011
The Daily Mail: Jose Mourinho has reiterated his desire to return to the Barclays Premier League to tackle 'unfinished business'.
TSO: "I miss England and my next job will be in England. There is unfinished business. And I think England wants me back, no? It was the most enjoyable time of my career."

14 APRIL 2011
The Sun: Jose Mourinho believes he will succeed Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford. The Special One wants to take over as Manchester United boss at the end of next season - and reckons he will get the job.
TSO didn't comment at that time, although this was The Sun, so I would take this particular article with a pinch of salt.

Jose Mourinho has said that he wants to return to England one day.

26 DECEMBER 2011
The Daily Telegraph: Jose Mourinho has reiterated his desire to return to manage in England 'in a couple of years' once his time in charge of Real Madrid is over.
TSO: "I am very, very happy to be in Real Madrid. It is a great experience for me. I believe it is probably the biggest club in the history of football, I didn’t want to miss the chance to work here, but my passion is England and my next step will be to go back, if possible go and stay for a long time. Get me a club in a couple of years, get me a good club."

7 MARCH 2012
The Sun: Jose Mourinho is ready to make a spectacular return as Chelsea manager. The Special One is quitting Spanish giants Real Madrid in the summer to come back to England.
TSO didn't comment at that time, although this was The Sun (etc)

26 MAY 2012
The Daily Mail: Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho has again hinted that his future may lie in England despite just signing a new contract with the Spanish champions that runs until 2016.
TSO: "In 2016, my daughter will be starting university and I would like to choose in which city she studies. London was distinct for me. I had a normal life there. In England the people are not interested in your personal life, but that is different in Spain and Italy. I need to protect my family."

The Daily Telegraph: Jose Mourinho would happily coach any club in the Premier League if he moved on from Spanish champions Real Madrid, the former Chelsea manager said.
TSO: "In England I am blue. I will push a little but when I watch matches on TV. I cannot deny what is clear in my mind. After Real Madrid, England, that's for sure. I keep saying the same, I know clearly."

Yes, Jose, we get it. You want to return to the Premier League, fine. Stop talking about it then!

I get the feeling that Jose Mourinho is saying these things not just because he really does want to return to England one day, but just because he can say them. His ego needs constant media attention to reinflate it when it deflates. In that respect, he's the Cheryl Cole of world football.

Sooner or later, Real Madrid will tire of Mourinho's comments to the extent that they call his bluff - and sack him.

But, of course, the British media must also shoulder some of the blame for this ages-old story being recycled time after time after time. It has been five years and two days since Mourinho left Chelsea, which is more than enough time for them to get over it, except they can't seem to get over it.

You can always count on one British journalist at the Bernabeu asking Mourinho if he'll ever take charge of a Premier League club again. Yes, he's a world-class manager and a character to boot, but the British are so obsessed with him that they are bordering on stalking him! Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked by Chelsea three years ago, but you don't get any lovelorn Englishmen begging him to come back.

Put it this way. If I'd done to a girl that I fancied at school seven years ago what the British press have done to Mourinho, I would either have a restraining order against me, or I would be typing this very article from a prison cell.

Jose Mourinho has said... no, hang on, this is another fame-seeking parasite.

20 September 2012

Farewell to a Dons legend

Terry Brown has been sacked by struggling AFC Wimbledon.

With their Football League place coming under threat for the first time, AFC Wimbledon have sacked manager Terry Brown, the man who got them there in the first place.

As successful as Brown has been at Kingsmeadow, his sacking was not too much of a surprise. Wimbledon hadn't won since the opening day of the League Two season, when they saw off Chesterfield. That was followed by away thrashings to Burton Albion and Bradford City which kick-started a run of seven competitive matches without victory.

Wimbledon are currently 21st in League Two after seven league games, but they are just one point above the relegation zone, and their goals conceded tally is the worst in the division.

But don't let the Dons' current plight hide the good work Brown has done during his five years at the club. The popular Londoner took over from Dave Anderson at the end of the 2006/2007 season, when Wimbledon had just lost in the Isthmian League Premier Division play-offs.

Brown, who had previous managerial experience in the Football League with Aldershot Town, was charged with getting Wimbledon out of the Isthmian League Premier at the third time of asking, and back on track for an FL return. In his first season, the Dons did just that, finishing 3rd in the table before overcoming AFC Hornchurch and Staines Town in the play-offs. Promotion to the Conference South was secured.

In 2008/2009, the Conference South was conquered. Wimbledon scored by far more goals than anyone else in the division and finished three points clear of Hampton & Richmond to move within one step of their holy grail. But, of course, the Conference Premier would be just that little bit tougher to negotiate.

One of Brown's signings from the year before, Danny Kedwell, really came good during the Wombles' first season in the Conference Premier. 21 goals were scored by the Kent-born striker, giving his team some hope of a third successive promotion. As it happened, Wimbledon could only finish 8th, some distance behind the top five.

The 2010/2011 Conference Premier season was all about two teams. If Wimbledon were moving up the leagues at the speed of a Formula One car, then Crawley Town were about to become the Bugatti Veyron of English football. Crawley blitzed through the Conference with an incredible 105 points, but with 90, Wimbledon were the hot favourites to join them in League Two via the play-offs.

Fleetwood Town were easily swatted in the Semi Finals, paving the way for them to meet Luton Town in the Final. That finished goalless, so penalties were required, and during the shoot-out, two Dons wrote themselves into club folklore. Lifelong Dons supporter Seb Brown (no relation to Terry) saved two penalties before captain Kedwell converted the decisive spot-kick, therefore putting the name 'Wimbledon' back on a Football League fixture list. But while Brown would stay faithful to his boyhood team, Kedwell moved onto his hometown club Gillingham before the new season.

AFC's first season in the Football League was one of consolidation, and a 16th-place finish gave them plenty to build upon. But for whatever reason, their upward spiral has not continued this season, and after Tuesday's defeat to Torquay United, Terry Brown bade a tearful farewell to the club's supporters. Less than 24 hours later, he was sacked.

Brown couldn't quite get Wimbledon back up to where they used to be, or even up to the same league as the hated Milton Keynes Dons, but he joined a club in tier 7 of English football and left it in tier 4. Because of that, Dons fans will be eternally grateful for what he has done.

Who's the man to continue where he left off, then? One names that has been mentioned are Andy Scott, who was harshly treated by Rotherham United. He would be capable of keeping Wimbledon back on track.

But the overwhelming favourite is Wimbledon legend Lawrie Sanchez, who scored the winning goal of the 1988 FA Cup Final - the finest hour of the old club. Sanchez has a proven pedigree at Football League level, but seems to have lost a bit of his managerial appetite recently.

Speaking of Wimbledon greats... Vinnie Jones isn't doing much in Hollywood now, is he? Oh.

18 September 2012

In memoriam: Brian Woolnough

Brian Woolnough: 1948-2012.

Brian Woolnough, one of Britain's best-known football journalists, has died at the age of 63.

His death following a long battle with bowel cancer has come as a shock, particularly to his employers The Daily Star, who just three months ago lost their chief football writer Danny Fullbrook, also to cancer.

After starting his career with the Esher News and Hemel Hempstead's Evening post, Woolnough spent 27 years at The Sun (where he eventually became their chief football writer) before moving to the Daily Star in 2001.

The Star's sports editor Howard Wheatcroft said, "Brian was the doyen of his generation of sports journalists, and had been the senior figure in football journalism for a long, long time.

"To my mind he also paved the way for journalists being called upon as pundits.

"When the era of rolling sports news began, such was his standing that he was in demand from virtually day one - and up until the end he was still the best of the lot.

"He was a big man in many ways, but he was never arrogant and had an incredible appetite for hard work."

There were a number of notable incidents where he got himself into the news. After a 1994 World Cup qualifier between Holland and England, where two controversial decisions in favour of Ronald Koeman appeared to finish off England's chances of qualifying, Woolnough entered the referee's room and confronted official Karl-Josef Assenmacher, letting him know exactly what he thought.

In 2004, Woolnough enraged Norwich City fans after calling their team "gutless" in the wake of their 4-0 defeat to Chelsea. He added that they would "stink the place out", and hoped that they would go down. Norwich were relegated from the Premier League, but the journalist was, for a while, deeply unpopular at Carrow Road.

Woolnough also had a profile on television. Having first hosted Hold The Back Page on Sky Sports in 1994, he returned to front their Sunday Supplement programme in 2007. For obvious reasons, he was absent from the show in this season's early programmes, with the Daily Mail's Neil Ashton taking over his duties, but he had hopes of returning.

We all have our own opinions about Woolnough as a journalist, but he was always forthright and well-informed.

Rest in peace, Wooly.

17 September 2012

Weekend reflections #4

A month into the Premier League season, and already the top of the table has a familiar look to it.

Following this weekend's round of matches, The Daily Transfer Request looks at four turning points: Manchester United's rising stars, Norwich City's predictability, expert punditry on the BBC and, firstly, THAT handshake.

Anton Ferdinand: "Nothing to see here, kid, move along."

Let's (not) shake on it
Anyone who watched the Olympic and Paralympic Games will have been pleased that the athletes in London were all very sporting and professional. Well, all of them except the Korean fencer Shin A Lam.

Now that the London show is over, it's back to the good old Premier League, where petulent and overpaid egomaniacs with the attitudes of 12-year-old TOWIE wannabes do their best to anger the British public once again.

The pre-match handshake at Premier League games was brought in a few years ago with good intentions, but always appears to be false. There have been a few instances where players have refused to shake hands, therefore overshadowing the game which it preceded.

For the second time in just two-and-a-half years, Chelsea captain John Terry was snubbed by an opposing player during the ritual. Last time, it was Manchester City's Wayne Bridge. This time, Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand turned past Terry instead of shaking hands with someone who he is not exactly best mates with after what happened on 23 October last year.

Although he has been cleared in the law courts of racially abusing Ferdinand, it has been almost a year since that incident took place and the FA have not yet decided whether Terry and Ferdinand should get any punishment. The feud hasn't been resolved, and if anything looks to be getting worse.

Terry's team-mate Ashley Cole, who defended his skipper in court, retaliated by refusing to shake Ferdinand's hands. And then, when the two captains met up at the centre circle for the referee's coin-toss, QPR captain Park Ji-Sung point-blank refused the hand of Terry. Remember, Park used to be a Manchester United team-mate of Anton Ferdinand's brother Rio.

Because three players (four if you include Terry) refused to acknowledge an opponent before the game, the entire match was overshadowed. Then again, if Roberto Di Matteo sneezed, it probably would have done the same, for the game ended in a dire 0-0 stalemate.

The pre-match handshake is flawed, and West Ham United boss Sam Allardyce has joined his QPR counterpart Mark Hughes in saying that it should be done away with. I agree. A post-match handshake might be a bit better, but the sooner the FA and Premier League get rid of this politically-correct farce, the better.

The sad thing is, though, I might be talking about this very subject again seven days from now. Liverpool are due to play Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday, and we know what happened when Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra last came face-to-face.

Manchester United left-back Alex/ander Buttner (delete if appropriate).

Fergie's new fledglings
Sir Alex Ferguson has a keen eye for signing bright young talent for Manchester United.

The man that brought future superstars like David Bellion, Liam Miller, Dong Fangzhuo, Ritchie De Laet and Bébé to Old Trafford has done it again. It may be a bit early to say for sure, but it looks like Alexander Buttner and Nick Powell are going to be shrewd investments.

Holland left-back Buttner was on the verge of joining Southampton, but then something seemed to happen, and instead, the Vitesse Arnhem youngster went to Manchester United. The 23-year-old must have felt like he'd lost tickets to see One Direction in concert and instead ended up with tickets to see Muse.

After Paul Scholes and Javier Hernandez got on the target for United against Wigan Athletic, it was time for Buttner to shine. Having set up Hernandez's goal three minutes earlier, Buttner beat four Wigan defenders before firing past Ali Al-Habsi from a tight angle to put the Red Devils 3-0 up on 66 minutes. If you missed his goal, you really should find it on YouTube, because he showed plenty of perseverance as well as technique during his left-wing run.

Now, the stage was set for Nick Powell, aged 18-and-a-half. Ferguson didn't waste any time in swooping for the Crewe Alexandra teenager when a wonderful goal helped the Railwaymen to secure promotion to League One. Primarily used as a forward at Crewe, Sir Alex sees him more as a central midfielder at United.

Powell is seen as a direct replacement for 37-year-old Scholes, who had earlier marked his 700th United appearance with a goal. Young Nick did the same in his first appearance. And with a 25-yard screamer to boot. Not bad, eh?

Ferguson said of Powell, "The boy is going to be a really good player, who we hope is going to fill Paul Scholes's boots. He's got terrific vision, a good temperament, two great feet, he's quick and is a great striker of the ball."

Powell's certainly looking like another good boy for the wily veteran. And as for Buttner... let's just say that the normally chipper Southampton boss Nigel Adkins probably facepalmed when he read the United-Wigan match report.

This is what football does to you, Chris.

Mellow yellow
Admittedly, when I assessed the Premier League's newest managers in July, I said that hiring Chris Hughton would be a shrewd move for Norwich City.

I can only apologise. After four matches, I'm afraid Hughton doesn't look so much like a good choice. A 0-0 draw at home to West Ham United means that Norwich are currently sitting in a far from pretty 16th place, and have yet to get a win on the board.

The Canaries' attack right now looks about as deadly as, er, a canary. Grant Holt seems to have lost his way after issuing, and then retracting, a transfer request during the summer. There is some potential to be seen in on-loan Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane, who came on with 20 minutes to go and missed a few chances to win all three points for his new team.

Goals were not as hard to come by when Paul Lambert managed Norwich. His fluid football did the trick for this team, which achieved a better result than many people expected when they finished 12th last season. In comparison, Hughton's tactics are perhaps more predictable - West Ham quickly sussed that Norwich's main attacks would come from the flanks and changed their game plan accordingly.

A number of City fans were perplexed that their creative midfielder Wes Hoolahan was left on the bench by Hughton, and some made their feelings public by booing the new manager.

Four points from as many games isn't a horrific return, but Hughton will know that his team could (and should) have picked up more - especially considering that their next four league opponents are Newcastle United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. These are tough times for the Norfolk boys.

Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke has never heard of Garth Crooks.

I've never seen Star Wars
As much as I dislike many aspects of how Sky Sports cover the Premier League, I have to say they do it a lot better than the BBC.

If you heard Garth Crooks on BBC's Final Score programme on Saturday, you'd probably have thought that he knew as much about football as country singer Garth Brooks knew about the Higgs boson.

This is what he said about Aston Villa's new signing Christian Benteke, who scored against Swansea City: "Benteke? £7million? I'd never heard of him, but I have now."

When a football pundit says that he's never heard of a player, it's like a Lewis Carroll enthusiast asking, "Alice? Who the f**k is Alice?" It's completely idiotic and makes you wonder why he gets taxpayers' money to educate the public on football.

Christian Benteke had been a star name in Belgium's Pro League for five years, winning the title with Standard Liege in 2009 before scoring at the rate of a goal every two games for Genk last season. He has six caps for Belgium, and against Holland last month, he scored his first international goal. But then again, only a very knowledgeable expert on Belgian football would know about those facts, isn't that right, Garth?

Then again, this is the BBC we're talking about. Two years ago, when asked about Newcastle United's new signing - the precociously-talented striker Hatem Ben Arfa, who had been tipped as a star of the future since his senior debut in 2004, and had gone on to win several international caps for France - Alan Shearer replied, "No one really knows a great deal of him."

Not many people really know a great deal about the Higgs boson. In contrast, millions of people know who the f**k Ben Arfa is, and more than a few are also clued up on Benteke. Perhaps Crooks and Shearer's joint knowledge of football is actually so limited that it stretches only to the Premier League, and La Liga's big two.

Surely it's only a matter of time before Alan Hansen asks Gary Lineker, "Do you know anything about this kid, Eden Hazard?"

16 September 2012

Footballer: No more massive wages!

Jobi McAnuff is a footballer voting FOR a restriction on wages.

Reading captain Jobi McAnuff has called for a salary cap in the Premier League.

With top players earning as much as £200,000 per week - and some even more - it seems that McAnuff is a turkey that has decided to break ranks and vote for Christmas. His statement will be popular with many football supporters, if not so much his fellow professionals.

The midfielder said, "I can see why a Wayne Rooney should get a big bonus because of the amount of shirts he sells but if you're talking about £200,000 a week, that's ridiculous. Who needs that amount of money?

"Surely someone will say 'that's enough'. We're on the verge of getting out of control and we're starting to lose a bit of reality.

"The most popular question I get from kids is 'what car do you drive?'. What happened to them wanting to know what it was like to make your debut?"

Hear, hear, Jobi. McAnuff speaks a lot of sense. He understands that modern footballers are becoming out of touch with football fans from the outside world, whereas that was certainly not the case decades ago. After all, how can Joe Plumber associate himself with someone who earns £1million in wages in just one month?

Big wages have a big impact on young boys who want to grow up to be the next Rooney, or perhaps more importantly to them, become amazingly rich. In an interview with the Mail on Sunday last week, Paolo Di Canio said about this subject, "I have noticed the changes in football, It used to be work, work, work. Now, for some players, the priority is the gold watch."

Nowadays, you get a lot of average players - Championship level at best - who earn more in a week than most hard-working British people earn in a year. How has it come to this that a second- or even third-division footballer can earn at least twice as much in a year as the Prime Minister?

Jimmy Hill created a monster when he scrapped the salary cap.

Since 18 January 1961, when Professional Footballers Association chairman (and just about every other profession in the sport) Jimmy Hill helped to get the salary cap abolished, wages increased steadily in the 30 years afterwards... and then skyrocketed in the next 20.

Why is that? The answer consists of just three words - Rupert bleeding Murdoch.

Yes - everyone's favourite Australian tyrant, and his British Sky Broadcasting monster, is responsible. In 1992, with money starting to pour back into English football after several years of turmoil, BSkyB paid £262million for the broadcasting rights of the then-embryonic Premier League. The rest is history.

Here are some of English football's landmark highest-paid players over the years:
1961: Johnny Haynes (£100 per week)
1979: Peter Shilton (£1,200 per week)
1994: Chris Sutton (£10,000 per week)
2000: Roy Keane (£52,000 per week)
2001: Sol Campbell (£100,000 per week)
2010: Carlos Tevez (£286,000 per week)

The highest-paid footballer in the world is reported to be Samuel Eto'o, who Anzhi Makhachkala pay around £345,000 per week - making his annual salary almost £18million (around $29million)!

Compare that to other big-earning sportspeople like baseball's Alex Rodriguez ($27.5million per annum), basketball's Rashard Lewis ($21million) and American football's Drew Brees ($20million). Bear in mind that baseball and basketball players have to play in far more games per season than soccer players.

Astronomical wages can also cripple a football club financially. Tal Ben Haim was on a contract worth £36,000 per week at League One Portsmouth, and until he agreed to leave Fratton Park, the club's very existence was in jeopardy.

Wages have spiralled out of control, and it's only a matter of time before the situations that dogged clubs like Pompey and Leeds United dog even bigger clubs. If something like that happened at, say, Manchester City or Chelsea, the consequences for the team in question would be catastrophic.

That's why McAnuff's comments have received the support of the current PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle, who nodded, "I think it's a very interesting suggestion and one that the authorities should take very seriously.

“The more I venture into the other side of football, the more I see that a lot of clubs are in very precarious positions.

“I do believe it's about time that football started running itself, and clubs started running themselves, as viable business entities. If there was a business in any other walk of life that was treading the financial line that a lot of our clubs are now, they wouldn't be in existence tomorrow."

The restrictions on salaries that Jimmy Hill fought so hard against could soon be back in place if Jobi McAnuff has his way. A salary cap is something that I, as someone who has witness the unrealistic inflation of wages during by 14 years as a football fan, completely support. But what would be a good cap at Premier League level? Now that's a good question.

13 September 2012

The Sun: too little, too late

Kelvin MacKenzie: Is THIS the face of a sorry man?

In today's issue of the so-called newspaper The Sun, they published an editorial apologising for one of the most controversial news headlines in British journalism history.

15 April 1989 went down as one of the most tragic days in the history of professional football. Thousands of Liverpool fans were crushed at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield during their team's FA Cup Semi Final against Nottingham Forest. 96 of them would never come home.

Four days later, The Sun published a front-page story headlined "THE TRUTH". Citing a number of sources, including former South Yorkshire Police secretary Paul Middup, The Sun claimed that some Liverpool fans picked the pockets of the dead and injured, urinated on police officers, and even assaulted a Police Constable who was trying to resuscitate a victim.

23 years on, that has been proven to be a load of lies. An independent enquiry into what actually happened at Hillsborough found that the SYP, together with Sheffield Hallam MP Irvine Patnick, covered up the real truth, and statements of over 100 police officers were doctored. They tried to convince the public that the police weren't at fault - it was all down to the Liverpool fans.

The inquiry found that there was "no evidence that fans had conspired to arrive late at the stadium" and "no evidence that they stole from the dead and dying".

Now that we know what really did happen, there must be justice for the 96. The SYP chief constable at the time, Peter Wright, is dead, but there are others who should be held accountable:
  • The aforementioned Paul Middup, who discussed the malicious rumours of pickpocketing and urination with The Sun.
  • David Duckenfield, the chief superintendent who oversaw policing at Hillsborough. He lied that Liverpool fans forced their way through an exit gate, starting the tragic crush. In fact, the gate was opened at his watch.
  • Irvine Patnick, the Conservative MP for Sheffield Hallam at the time of the tragedy. He was another source of The Sun's story about 'The Truth'.
  • Dr Stefan Popper, the coroner who, at an inquest following Lord Taylor's report into the disaster, refused to accept any evidence from after 3:15pm - nine minutes after the game was abandoned. Dr Popper returned verdicts of 'accidental death'.

As for The Sun, they should shoulder some of the blame - not for the disaster, of course, but of how it was covered in the media. Their decision to publish total and utter untruths caused mass distress for the families of the 96 victims.

The reputations of the paper's editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, and the man who reported the story, Harry Arnold, are - if they weren't already - in tatters.

The Sun's apology from today, ordered by current editor Dominic Mohan, offered the people of Liverpool "an unreserved and heartfelt apology that is profound, sincere and unambiguous". That apology has come too late, and 23 years on, with a boycott that has all but obliterated The Sun's presence in the city, it has become clear that Liverpudlians will never accept it.

MacKenzie - it was on his watch that the story was published, of course - issued a half-hearted apology, "I am sorry that it was so wrong. It has taken more than two decades, 400,000 documents and a two-year inquiry to discover to my horror that it would have been far more accurate had I written the headline The Lies rather than The Truth."

Again, it was "too little, too late", said Trevor Hicks from the Hillsborough Families Support Group. You can't blame him for saying that. As recently as 2006, MacKenzie said: "I was not sorry then and I'm not sorry now".

Hicks's branding of MacKenzie as "lowlife" can be attributed to The Sun as a whole.

After all, if you were to click this link to read The Sun's editorial online, to the right of it, you will find so-called stories about Denise Welch admitting that she's a sex addict, Robbie Williams wanting Andy Murray to wear his fashion label's underwear, and Chris de Burgh's daughter stripping naked for Playboy. I sense a theme here. It's amazing that The Sun qualifies as a 'newspaper'.

MacKenzie is now a Saturday columnist for The Daily Mail, but after ordering the publication of the biggest lie ever made by a British newspaper, he should never be allowed to work in media again.

The Sun will not, and should not be allowed to, recover in Liverpool. I'm sure I'm not the only one that thinks that last sentence would read even better if the words "in Liverpool" were removed.

Don't buy The Sun.

11 September 2012

Let's stay calm over Sterling

Raheem Sterling is close to his England senior debut. Too close?

This could be a red letter day for Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling, who could make his England senior debut at the age of 17 years and 225 days.

In the early stages of this season, Sterling has impressed in a Liverpool team which otherwise has not. He has so far made seven senior appearances for the Reds, with his most high-profile showings coming in home league games against Manchester City and Arsenal.

His pace and his ability to get past defenders easily have really caught the eye, with many tipping the former Queens Park Rangers youth player to become a genuine star.

But let's get real. Sterling's still a kid, with a lot of growing up to do. There's no doubting his potential, but at the moment, he has just that. Potential.

He's only just made his debut for England Under-19s, for Pete's sake! In fact, the reason why Sterling was called up for the Under-19s' friendly match in Germany was because his Liverpool boss, Brendan Rodgers, didn't want him in Stuart Pearce's Under-21s for fear of overexposure.

Rodgers, who has a good track record when it comes to working with young players, said at the time, "It might look great on the back pages that he is involved in the Under-21s but the reality is that this is a kid who has made great strides over the last few weeks. He was absolutely fantastic through pre-season... but, for the moment, let's just stay calm."

In that case, calling Raheem into the main squad is like saying that little toddler Timmy is not yet ready to dip his toes into the paddling pool, and then throwing him head first into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

England manager Roy Hodgson has given assurances that Sterling will not be allowed to over-react to getting this call-up. It is highly unlikely that the Jamaican-born teenager will make his debut against Ukraine tonight, unless England have an unlikely 4 or 5-0 lead after 70 minutes, in which case Hodgson might tell Sterling to get warmed up.

He may not technically be an adult yet, but he won't be the youngest England international ever - or even in the last ten years. Compared to Wayne Rooney, who made his bow against Australia in 2003 when he was 17 years and 111 days old, he is positively middle-aged. Sterling is even a grandad (which he might actually be by the time his playing career ends!) compared to Theo Walcott, who was 17 and 75 days when he debuted against Belarus six years ago.

But here's a word of warning from Sterling's boss Brendan Rodgers, "I think you have to be careful with young players. They can be elevated above their station too quickly. That is a part of it in this country. They have one good game and they get elevated into superstar status. You then see them at 23 and 24 and you wonder why they are not superstars any more."

That can be said of a young Liverpudlian striker called Jose Baxter, who, if like me you regulary watch the Victory Shield Under-16s tournament, you will recognise from the 2007 England squad. One of his team-mates was a young midfielder by the name of Jonjo Shelvey, who of course is now one of Sterling's Liverpool team-mates.

He scored twice in that tournament as England once again retained the trophy, and there were some comparisons to Wayne Rooney, who made his mark in that competition almost a decade earlier.

Baxter's rise was so quick that, in August 2008, he made his Everton debut against Blackburn Rovers when he was just 16 years and six months old. Injuries limited the impact he made in his first season, although he featured seven times the following season. But things went downill from autumn 2009, when he was arrested on suspicion of possessing cannabis. He wasn't convicted, but things didn't improve for Baxter afterwards.

The 2010/2011 season was one to completely forget about, but surely he would break through in the following campaign! Er, no. After one Carling Cup appearance for Everton, he was sent on loan to Tranmere Rovers, where in 14 appearances he scored three goals, along with one straight red card against Scunthorpe United. Not great.

A substitute appearance for Everton against Manchester City this January would be his last for the Toffees. He was offered a new contract at Goodison Park, but turned it down in order to seek first-team football. After a failed trial at Crystal Palace, he's now hoping to earn a contract with League One side Oldham Athletic, whose next match is a home game against Notts County on Saturday. Hardly Wembley, is it?

Another player who was hyped up at a very young age is Ravel Morrison, who played in the Victory Shield the year after Baxter did. You'll probably be aware of how his career has gone so far. If not, I'll just say that, at 19, he can't even get off the bench for Birmingham City, let alone England.

Raheem Sterling should keep his feet on the ground, and I have this advice for him. Enjoy your England experience, and don't expect to play. You haven't made it yet, lad, but you can do that one day.

9 September 2012

Is Di Canio too harsh?

Paolo Di Canio stays calm under the pressure of a losing streak.

You could say that Swindon Town manager Paolo Di Canio is the José Mourinho of League One - in more ways than one.

The Italian firebrand is in his second season as the Robins' boss, and has certainly ruffled a few feathers during his time at the County Ground.

Reading about his actions at Swindon over the last 15 months, and listening to some of his quotes, you can instantly twig that Di Canio is a fascinating character. The former Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham United striker certainly doesn't pull any punches... or even pushes, for that matter. Some of his quotes will strike a chord with many football folk, but does he cross the line too often?

Di Canio came to Swindon last summer with the club down in the dumps following relegation to League Two. He made sweeping changes to the squad, including the acquisitions of more than a few of his Italian compatriots, and some other foreigners. A Namibian, a Czech, a Frenchman and an Algerian all walked into a club - Swindon Town.

Promotion back to League One was secured, but not before describing his players as 'chihuahuas' and 'rottweilers', having a fiery conversation with Leon Clarke which ended the striker's stay in Wiltshire, and overseeing an FA Cup giant-killing against Wigan Athletic, after which he called for his players' names to be etched into the stadium.

He also led Swindon to the Final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, but that season, there was double tragedy for him as he lost both parents within months. Just another quiet campaign, then.

This summer, his reputation has continued to rise - but the number of eyebrow-raising moments from Di Canio have also increased. Relations between him and captain Paul Caddis seemed to break down completely. Di Canio accused the Scotsman of showing a lack of commitment since he became a father, and on transfer deadline day, he sent him off to Birmingham City.

Happy, sad, angry, neutral - the many emotions of Paolo Di Canio.
A couple of days later, goalkeeper Wes Foderingham conceded two early goals to Preston North End. By the 21st minute, Di Canio had decided enough was enough - Foderingham was substituted, and the shotstopper was far from happy. After a quiet conversation with his manager, Foderingham calmly kicked a water bottle and politely decided to spend the rest of the match in the stands.

Di Canio decided not to be too critical, saying, "He's the worst professional I've ever seen.

"It wasn't only the mistake, which can happen to everyone. It was the arrogance later on when he started moaning to the others. That was the worst thing for me.

"If he doesn't come out and say sorry to the fans for his professionalism, then he is out of my team."

Foderingham apologised, and kept his place in the team. That 4-1 defeat was followed by another loss, this time to Oxford United in the JPT.

This time, Aden Flint was seen as the culprit after his collision with defensive partner Darren Ward allowed Oxford to score late on. Di Canio reacted, "Flint came in tonight as if he was on holiday and this is not acceptable. He has to take the responsibility. We lost because of him."

Now we move onto yesterday's league game, at home to Leyton Orient. Di Canio had what is described in TDTR HQ as a "leg in the air", as he took off several items of clothing as Swindon's predicament. The final score was only 1-0 to Orient, but there was a fear that, had Foderingham conceded any more goals, Di Canio might have ended the match with as many clothes on as Lori Buckby from Babestation.

Thankfully this time, Di Canio didn't call for Raffaele De Vita to be hung, drawn and quartered, or for Alan McCormack to be thrown to the lions. But he did comment, "There wasn't passion in this game or desire. It was an empty performance. I have over-estimated some of my players. I hope my players analyse themselves."

It's clear that man-management skills are not the Italian's forte. If he doesn't cut some slack for his Swindon players, who knows what could happen in later months? Could he end up coming to blows with one of his midfielders? Might there be a player revolt? Could he even be taken to court by a player accusing him of something REALLY nasty?

Di Canio has in the past been accused of facism, or at least making fascist salutes. In May, on-loan Leyton Orient striker Jonathan Téhoué even complained that he made racist comments about him and other black players at Swindon. I'm not sure if anything's been proven yet, but I should point out that Wes Foderingham is black, and not many other players at Swindon are compared to other league clubs. I won't say anymore on that matter.

As things stand, Swindon are 11th in League One with a distinctively average tally of seven points from five games. But a blip could become a long winless streak, which in turn could become a full-blown crisis. The more Di Canio makes cutting remarks about his squad, the bigger the risk of that happening.

After beating Swindon yesterday, Leyton Orient boss Russell Slade said, "Our dressing room was a happy place to be." Can the same be said about the Robins' dressing room?

7 September 2012

World Cup 2014 European qualifying preview

The European qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup get underway today.

There are 53 European teams hoping to qualify for the finals in Brazil, but only 13 of them will get their tickets.

The teams are split into nine groups, eight consisting of six teams and the ninth consisting of five. The top team in each group automatically qualifies, and the eight best runners-up will play-off for the last four places.

Today, The Daily Transfer Request will forecast the outcome of all nine groups, predicting who will win those groups and which four runners-up will make it through the play-offs. When European qualifying ends on 19 November 2013, we'll look back at this and see just how accurate our predictions were.

Vincent Kompany, captain fantastic for both his club and for Belgium.

CROATIA: Former international Igor Stimac replaces Slaven Bilic as the man in helm of a team with plenty of attacking talent, but not to much in the way of defence. Getting the likes of Niko Kranjcar, Luka Modric and Nikica Jelavic will be crucial - particularly Jelavic, as his international scoring record's not great. (2nd)
SERBIA: Serbia were bitterly disappointed not to make it to UEFA Euro 2012, and manager Sinisa Mihajlovic has had to make some major changes. There's no Nemanja Vidic to call on anymore at centre-back, and his possible long-term replacement Matija Nastasic is just 19. (3rd)
BELGIUM: The Belgians are coming, and their 12-year tournament drought will surely be ending soon. Captain Vincent Kompany and winger Eden Hazard are the main focus points of a young Red Devils team that can hit the ground running and make it to Brazil. (1st - QUALIFY)
SCOTLAND: A squad full of mostly Celtic and Championship players won't worry the bigger teams in this group, although the very prolific Jordan Rhodes might. (4th)
MACEDONIA: Macedonia's one world-class striker is the Napoli striker Goran Pandev, and he alone can't get them anywhere near qualification. (6th)
WALES: Chris Coleman has stabilised the Red Dragons following ex-boss Gary Speed's tragic death, but Aaron Ramsey and his young team-mates aren't at their best just yet. (5th)

Gianluigi Buffon has been Italy's number 1 almost since the dawn of time.

ITALY: Euro 2012 showed that Italian football scandals aren't exactly bad news for their national team when it comes to major tournaments. The runners-up, with talisman Andrea Pirlo and the enigmatic striker Mario Balotelli, should coast through this group, especially with the ever-dependable Gianluigi Buffon still in goal. (1st - QUALIFY)
DENMARK: Once again coached by the man who epitomises Danish football, Morten Olsen, the red and whites should make up for missing out on the last two World Cups. Nicklas Bendtner is almost literally Danish Dynamite at his best, as is playmaker Christian Eriksen. (2nd - QUALIFY)
CZECH REPUBLIC: Even with Petr Cech in goal rising star Theodor Gebre Selassie at right-back, the Czechs are vulnerable defensively. The Quarter Finalists from Euro 2012, now minus Milan Baros, may also struggle for goals, so I doubt they'll make it. (3rd)
BULGARIA: Nowadays, Bulgaria's team is not one to get excited about, and goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov will be picking the ball out of his net quite often, I think. (5th)
ARMENIA: Armenia had a slim chance to qualify for Euro 2012, but midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and his team-mates couldn't take it, and they will struggle this time. (4th)
MALTA: The Knights of Malta have got 'ni' chance, but as long as Michael Mifsud is still banging in the goals, they have a chance of avoiding the wooden spoon. (6th)

Mesut Ozil: The centrepiece of the multicultural German team.

GERMANY: Germany's time will surely come within the next four years under Joachim Low. Mesut Ozil is the main creative force of a Mannschaft which tears apart minnows, and hopes are high that Mario Gomez's excellent form will continue and their best goalie since Oliver Kahn, Manuel Neuer, will improve further. (1st - QUALIFY)
SWEDEN: Sweden's chances will be determined by Zlatan Ibrahimovic - if the striker wants to be a team player, they can qualify. If he's only thinking about himself, though, then Erik Hamren might have to rely more on Johan Elmander. (2nd)
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: If Euro 2012 was an indication of where Ireland stand in Europe's pecking order, they are very far away from the big guns. Giovanni Trapattoni's Anglo-Irish army are very exposed at the back, and midfielder Aiden McGeady can be frustrating at times. (3rd)
AUSTRIA: Although they shouldn't expect qualification, Austria - whose star player is left-back David Alaba - should at least Ireland close if not overtake them. (4th)
FAROE ISLANDS: Things have improved for the Faroe Islands and their veteran keeper, 42-year-old Jakup Mikkelsen, in recent years but not by much. (5th)
KAZAKHSTAN: Sergei Ostapenko is the main source of goals for a very inexperienced Kazakh team who have only a few players from outside of their national league. (6th)

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, like Robin van Persie, knows where the goal is.

HOLLAND: The last time Louis van Gaal took charge of Holland, they failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. But despite an awful Euro 2012, goal machines Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar should ensure straightforward qualification this time around, and young stars like Kevin Strootman can make their mark now. (1st - QUALIFY)
TURKEY: Plenty has changed in the Turkey team since their last major tournament just four years ago. Two of these team's newer stars are on-loan Liverpool midfielder Nuri Sahin, and striker Burak Yilmaz, who should get them into the play-offs. (2nd - QUALIFY)
HUNGARY: Balazs Dzsudzsak (try saying that when drunk!) is the centrepiece of an otherwise lacklustre team of not so magnificent Magyars. (4th)
ROMANIA: Romania finished 3rd in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, but their stock has fallen considerably. Attacking midfielder Gabriel Torje and rising starlet Gheorghe Grozav should be able to move them back up this time. (3rd)
ESTONIA: Experience is prevalent in the Estonian side, but 125-cap striker Andres Oper's best days are behind him, and the same can be said of his team-mates. (5th)
ANDORRA: Picking up at least one point should be the aim for veteran defender Oscar Sonejee and co, who are used to being whipping boys. (6th)

Say hello to Xherdan Shaqiri and Switzerland's bright young hopes.

NORWAY: Norway may be top seeds in this group, but it's a very competitive one and I don't see the Drillos qualifying. Egil Olsen's team is in a transitional phase, with players like Morten Gamst Pedersen gradually making way for up-and-comers such as Markus Henriksen. (3rd)
SLOVENIA: A lack of potency in attack, thanks to the retirement of Milivoje Novakovic, is Slovenia's biggest threat to missing out on Brazil. But there's plenty of hope in youngsters like midfield man Jasmin Kurtic for the two-time World Cup qualifiers. (2nd)
SWITZERLAND: I am so looking forward to watching Ottmar Hitzfeld's Swiss team reach its full potential. Xherdan Shaqiri has been touted as a future superstar, and Granit Xhaka as possibly the best Swiss player ever, and frontman Eren Derdiyok is approaching his best form at the age of 24. (1st - QUALIFY)
ALBANIA: Former Sunderland midfielder Lorik Cana captains an Albanian side that could scare some of their supposed 'bigger' opponents on their day. (4th)
CYPRUS: The Cypriot league is flourishing, but the same can't be said for their almost neglected national team players, like the legendary Michalis Konstantinou. (5th)
ICELAND: Iceland are expected to finish bottom (but certainly not pointless) in this group, although they have a real talent in 22-year-old striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson. (6th)

"Is this the way to Brazil?" asks Cristiano Ronaldo.

PORTUGAL: Thanks to their performances in Poland and Ukraine, we now know that Portugal are NOT just "Cristiano Ronaldo and ten mates". The free-scoring stepover superstar is backed up in a ferocious attack by Nani, and Pepe is at the heart of a sturdy defence built by former holding midfielder Paulo Bento. (1st - QUALIFY)
RUSSIA: Russia are capable of going through automatically, and Fabio Capello could do a better job with them than he did with England. Hopes will be pinned on Alan Dzagoev, who was brilliant at Euro 2012, and forward Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who was not. (2nd - QUALIFY)
ISRAEL: Often on the cusp of qualifying without taking that next step, Israel's story is unlikely to be rewritten for 2014. As always, their main stars are Premier League veterans Tal Ben Haim, who nearly killed Portsmouth, and Yossi Benayoun. (3rd)
NORTHERN IRELAND: Norn Iron are tumbling down the FIFA rankings, and Michael O'Neill's team - seemingly too dependant on an in-form David Healy - won't get close to qualification. (4th)
AZERBAIJAN: Araz Abdullayev sums up Azerbaijani football - at 20, he's about as young as his nation, and is still a long way short of what he's capable of. (5th)
LUXEMBOURG: Whisper it, because Eric Hoffmann and Luxembourg might not finish bottom this time after some recent encouraging results... but don't bet on it! (6th)

Greece should get through if they avoid too many of these.

GREECE: Greece are a long way from their best days, at Euro 2004, but can they still make their struggling compatriots proud. Sokratis Papastathopoulos and young Kyriakos Papadopoulos are at the heart of a sometimes chaotic defence, but coach Fernando Santos has the highly-rated Sotiris Ninis in his midfield. (1st - QUALIFY)
SLOVAKIA: Italian-based midfielder Marek Hamsik is the superstar of a Slovak team that is hoping to qualify for back-to-back World Cups. But despite the presence of Martin Skrtel in a stable defence, they may just be edged out. (3rd)
BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA: Bosnia have been so close to qualification for the last two major events before running into Portugal in the play-offs. The goals of striker Edin Dzeko and attacking midfielder Zvjezdan Misimovic should get them to that stage again. (2nd)
LITHUANIA: Former Hearts midfielder/diving cheat Saulius Mikoliunas is the star attraction in a team short of ability if not experience. (4th)
LATVIA: If Maris Verpakovskis and his team can repeat their heroics of qualifying for Euro 2004, I would be absolutely amazed. (5th)
LIECHTENSTEIN: Things were looking up for goalkeeper Peter Jehle and Liechtenstein not too long ago, but now they're back to being small fish in a big ocean. (6th)

Last chance for England's Steven Gerrard and the golden generation.

ENGLAND: Roy Hodgson must learn the lessons of this summer if England are to succeed in Brazil, although getting there shouldn't be a problem. This is perhaps the last chance that captain Steven Gerrard and ex-skipper John Terry will have of lifting a major trophy, and as ever, the Three Lions will turn to Wayne Rooney for goals. (1st - QUALIFY)
MONTENEGRO: One of the most promising teams in international football, Montenegro will surely make a major tournament soon... but not this time. When the Falcons want goals, they depend too heavily on Stevan Jovetic and the genuinely world-class Mirko Vucinic. (3rd)
UKRAINE: Anatoliy Tymoschuk is now the elder statesman of Ukraine following on from Andriy Shevchenko's retirement. Oleh Blokhin is bringing through younger talent such as Yevhen Konoplyanka, but will still be optimistic about qualifying. (2nd)
POLAND: Poland have an army of very good goalkeepers like Wojciech Szczesny, although that will obviously not be enough for the White Eagles. (4th)
MOLDOVA: Good luck identifying any of captain Alexandru Epureanu and his squad-mates, who are about as good at football as they are at tennis. (5th)
SAN MARINO: To sum San Marino up, I'd quite happily take bets on how many goals will be scored past the hapless Aldo Simoncini during the qualifying campaign. (6th)

Can the star of Euro 2012, Andres Iniesta, shine yet again for Spain?

SPAIN: Two Euros and one World Cup without reply for La Furia Roja make them the indisputable world number ones. Vicente del Bosque has a seemingly endless supply of talent to select - Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Iker Casillas, we know all about these players, and we know that they will definitely be contenders in Brazil. (1st - QUALIFY)
FRANCE: Didier Deschamps must pick up the pieces after France fell apart again. The former captain would love the current skipper, keeper Hugo Lloris, to consistently stop goals and Karim Benzema to regularly score them to secure qualification. (2nd - QUALIFY)
BELARUS: Belarus are perhaps the team that will come closest to even ticking the group's big two. Their best players are former Blackpool mirage of a centre-forward Sergei Kornilenko and ex-Brazilian midfielder Renan Bressan. (3rd)
GEORGIA: Teenager Jano Ananidze is the new star of Temuri Ketsbaia's crop of players, whose aim should be to avoid finishing bottom. (5th)
FINLAND: New Ajax defender Niklas Moisander must shore up the Finnish back line if they're to avoid dropping from their lowest ever FIFA ranking. (4th)

To summarise, here are the 13 European teams that TDTR has tipped to qualify for World Cup 2014:
Belgium, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey