Were The Telegraph Right to Sting Sam Allardyce?

Former England boss Sam Allardyce did, in his own words, a “silly thing” by talking to undercover reporters masquerading as businessmen.

Had it been any other  football management position, he probably wouldn’t have been given the boot but the England role is direct with the FA, whose player transfer rules he advised on “getting around”.

For what it is worth I still think he’d have done a good job if given the chance but that is neither here nor there really now, and I doubt the likely candidates (Gareth Southgate, Steve Bruce, Alan Pardew and Eddie Howe at the moment) are an upgrade. Again that’s a moot point and the only real option was to part company; his position had become untenable regardless of your viewpoint on his actions with those undercover journalists.

There are a lot of points to consider in this whole mess but I’m going to keep this fairly brief and focus solely on the journalistic methods used.

Was the Telegraph’s use of subterfuge, or to borrow from Sam Allardyce ‘entrapment’, justified?

That’s a big question but without knowing any more I’m going to have to stay on the fence and here’s why.

Entrapment as a form of journalism can be as – or more – seedy than the thing it is trying to expose.  Consider the ongoing Fake Sheik trial as an example, where Sun journalist Mazher Mahmood is accused of tampering with evidence in the collapsed drugs trial of Tulisa Contostavlos.

This case may be a little different depending on what The Telegraph have unearthed further.  They claim they have eight current and former Premier League managers accused of taking ‘bungs’ to facilitate deals, in something perhaps more serious than Allardyce’s indiscretions.

Whether or not the newspaper’s actions are justifiable depends on what information they had in the first place to act, or whether it was simply a ‘fishing’ exercise. If they had good reason then this was probably the only way to get the proof they needed, if they just threw some bait out there looking for a bite… that’s questionable behaviour at best. Maybe we’ll never really know the answer to this and as such what happens next is vital.

It reminds me of The Times’ sting earlier this year on doping.  The case involving the ‘doping doctor’ Mark Bonar, which didn’t really come to anything near what was promised in the original expose. That suggested  around 150 elite sports stars, or a percentage of, would be unveiled as dopers but it just didn’t happen.

Because there’s supposedly much more to come I’m going to take a ‘wait and see’ approach regarding The Telegraph’s methods here.  If, as they promise, they uncover widespread corruption within British football in regards to transfer dealings, third party ownership, bungs, bribes, pay-offs etc etc then their methods will have been justified.  If it all fizzles out to nothing and Allardyce was in actual fact their mother load, quite a few people are going to feel pretty short changed by this whole debacle.

I’ll come back to this when we know a bit more, let’s see what The Telegraph comes up with.

Further Reading:

The original Telegraph article.

And more from The Telegraph.

Mark Bonar bits, via myselfThe Times and the Daily Mail.

Gonzo article on Allardyce prior to his appointment.

Fake Sheik via Sky News.

Follow/abuse us on Twitter @GonzoSportsDesk, we’re not fancy we follow back.

Manchester United, Jose Mourinho and Some Perspective

I can’t really believe I’m writing this but I’ve decided to launch a defence of Jose Mourinho.

Three defeats means the world has fallen apart for Manchester United, apparently.  I thought people in this country have had enough of experts but it looks like that doesn’t apply to the world of football, just politics. 

Already we’re seeing stats comparing Mourinho’s United with Louis van Gaal’s, his Chelsea figures from last season have made an appearance, pundits are falling over themselves to offer a viewpoint… I’d say the football community have an insatiable desire for experts and statistics based on this evidence.

Somewhat understandably, a noticeable majority within the media have used it as an excuse to turn the knife.  A quick google of Jose Mourinho and stuff like ‘dressing room split’, ‘murky medical…’, ‘players shocked by Mourinho’s treatment of…’ etc etc. It isn’t good reading.

As an individual he has a strained relationship with the press; often showing outright disdain, sometimes being overly aggressive and always acting as if he’d rather be anywhere else other than having talking to you.  That means he’s going to get a rough ride more often than not, and there are plenty out there who just like taking shots at United as well.

Me included, but you’ve got to be fair.  So let’s break a few of those issues down a bit.  We’ll start with the losses, then move on to the rumours and other jibes.

The Manchester Derby Defeat

The Mourinho honeymoon period came to an abrupt end at Old Trafford in the first Manchester derby of the season as Man City ran out 2-1 winners.  In truth I don’t think United were playing particularly well beforehand and that display against City was no real shock.

City probably just about deserved that win but the result really could have gone either way.  Kelechi Iheanacho was played onside with such naivety for the second and there’s not really any way a manager can legislate for that, it is just human error.  Claudio Bravo was lucky not to give at least one more away for City and Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw a great chance blocked late on as well as they pushed for an equaliser.  The defeat is a bad result but there was enough evidence in that game to suggest United can beat City, which has to be encouraging.

… Feyenoord?

Yes Manchester United should be beating Feyenoord both home and away, but that’s not to say the Dutch side are a bad team and at De Kuip they can give anyone a game.

Mourinho has made no real secret that he’s not that bothered about the Europa League and going out early might not be a disaster all things considered if they’re challenging on a few fronts elsewhere later in the season.  I do think they’ll get out of the group they’re in regardless of that defeat though, having been also drawn with Fenerbahce and Zorya Luhansk. If they qualify this result will be almost irrelevant anyway – especially if they top the standings.

Come on, what about Watford?

Admittedly this is a shocker.  Perhaps the pressure of having already lost two in a row played a part here, who knows?  I didn’t actually watch this game so can’t offer any kind of analysis in full confidence but on paper this is a bad result.

Other Issues for Jose Mourinho

His treatment of Bastian Schweinsteiger is incredibly harsh, and some of his comments about Luke Shaw after that Watford defeat were below the belt.  In the German’s case; he’s been frozen out and Mourinho tried to get rid in the summer but there were no takers, at least none willing to match his wage demands. He could have brought him into the fold after the window shut but he’s decided there’s no place for the midfielder in his team and – quite clearly – now wants him off the wage bill in January if possible.

For Shaw; I can’t see how that kind of criticism helps a player but at the same time mountains and molehills spring to mind for the subsequent reaction.

Here’s what he said: “And here for the second [Watford] goal, [Nordin] Amrabat receives the ball and our left-back is 25 metres from him instead of five metres. But even at 25 metres, you have to jump and go and press, but no, we wait.

“This is a tactical but also a mental attitude. It’s something that doesn’t become perfect in a couple of weeks.”

Perhaps ill advised but then again it isn’t so bad, it may have been better to keep this kind of thing in the dressing room though.  Shaw has two options really – he either sulks or he could suck it up and step up his game, seeing it as proof the manager thinks he is capable of much better.

If United lose in the EFL Cup at Northampton later this could all go out the window but my thinking is there will be no knee-jerk reaction from the hierarchy just yet.  They’ve paid a lot of money to bring Mourinho in and then given him a lot more to get a squad together.  The United fans are a fairly patient bunch when it comes to managers, although perhaps there is a bit more urgency for success after the David Moyes and Louis van Gaal tenures. There’s certainly more to come from summer buys Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan and I’m fairly sure the now seemingly not-so-Special One will be given a decent amount of time to get them and others playing to their full potential.

This constant analysis and criticism is quite frankly boring, it feels like too many just couldn’t wait for the wheels to fall off and have jumped the gun at the first sign of trouble.  The money spent in the summer may have lead to expectations of instant success but you have to remember he took over a struggling, underperforming side and they will give him time to make it right.

For whatever it’s worth I don’t think Mourinho is the right coach for United and I never have done. I don’t think his philosophy on how the game should be played fits at Old Trafford, and his reluctance to use younger players is at odds with the recent history at United. However, now he is in the hot seat he deserves more than five Premier League games before a fair assessment is made, and the club will be thinking along those lines too even if the media are not.

Further Reading:

Stuff on Luke Shaw via the MEN.

BBC expert Danny Murphy offers his thoughts on Jose Mourinho and Manchester United.

Follow/abuse us on Twitter @GonzoSportsDesk, we’re not fancy we follow back.  

 

 

Gonzo Sports Guest Article: What I have Learnt About Being a Football Club Journalist for a Month

Just over a month ago I said goodbye to Jacque Talbot but for reasons known only to him he’s decided to come back.  Here he takes us through his experiences of working for a non-league club, enjoy.

My first match report/ How to do a novice match report

Job opportunities are few and far between for aspiring sports writers, that’s why is vitally important to say yes to almost every proposition that you come across.

It’s fair to say a writing job with an unnamed football club (they do have a name really, they are not actually unnamed or called unnamed football club), landed in my lap mostly by a good piece of fortune, yet I must stress that in this line of work, you do enable your own luck.

No sooner had I hastily applied for the job vacancy ‘club journalist’ online than I was travelling to their secluded stadium, in midst of the North-West, to liaison with the club secretary and take a look around the ground and training facilities.

Now fast forward to our first agreed match to which I would be reporting: it was 3rd September and a miserable, wet day in Ashton – a small town just outside Wigan. I regrettably misread the bus timetable (I was in town about two hours early), but also had the good fortune to miscalculate the point at which to get off the bus, which in turn resulted in a tiresome, long, soaky trod in the pouring rain, to fill up my time until kick-off. I guess it was a somewhat bittersweet occasion.

The stadium was hidden in the depths of a housing estate on the edge of town. There was advertising boards surrounding the pitch and a stand which fitted several rows of plastic, red, foldable seats, where a single onlooker was already present.

My long walk had cut my time sizably, but there was still about half hour to go, so, keeping in the spirit of the profound immersion of this anecdotal article, I will briefly describe to you how I prepare myself fully before a match starts:

You should exercise a bit of pragmatism so, you need to; bring a number of pens in case one runs out, turn your phone on silent so you don’t get distracted; take with you at least two notepads– one smaller to log the live reporting and one larger notepad so you can start writing your report immediately after (I’ll explain this one further in the article); make sure you dress for the occasion: as silly as it sounds, wearing comfortable clothing during for the match will enable to have your mind thinking both punctually and with clarity.

Positioning is also imperative. You won’t be able to clearly illustrate a game to an audience, a match you’ve watched through the bar window of the clubhouse. Therefore, get there early enough that you have a vast choice in selecting a position which gives you a great view of all ends of the pitch, and with the freedom to move towards areas of significance (such as closer to the 18 yard box to see a forthcoming penalty)- if you have the environmental capability to do so.

In smaller notepad, you should have already laid the foundations –write both teams names at the top of your first page and draw a line underneath. Then put a single line down the middle of the page and in-between the two names, giving something resembling a Christ cross with two club names balancing on the ridge at either end. The idea is to write events, as the match progresses, and chronologically state events under the name of the club you are commenting on. If you make the mistake of writing the events side by side, what you’ll be left with is a mismatch in timeframe, rendering you with just guesswork.

Now with a couple of seconds away from kick off, you may have or may not have the team sheets on your person. If you do not, you have to ask for this after the match from one of the club officials – every football match will have a team sheet, they wouldn’t be able to ‘legally’ play without one.

Regardless, you won’t need to use one until after the match has been played, the way to keep track (On the presumption that you don’t know the player names because it’s your first gig) is to take note of player numbers whilst they play and add them to your notepad whenever a literal-noteworthy event takes place with the said player (or in this case, the said number) on it.

You must also need to work out a key for yourself and write in down in a suitable place or memorise it. This which will enable you to knowledgably jot the ‘code’ down on your journal, quickly and precisely.

Here I will write out a section of my notepad by way of example:

RW O-B 7-11-7, G7 FT I-B LW LF HTR, A11 ’57.

What looks like code is actually a whole lot of useful information for me to write a detailed description of this particular event later on. Without defining every-single piece of information there, I will merely write this out in correct form:

Number 7 plays a one-two with number 11 outside the box on the right wing, the return pass sees number 7 score a goal with a first time shot, inside the box, on the left wing, with his/her left boot, hard into the top right of the net, assisted by number 11, on the fifty seventh minute.

How much you write is up to you, I tend to write as much information as possible due to my lack of confidence in my own memory. You will also be writing the code (I’m deliberately not using the word ‘short-hand’ that’s a whole other complicated game, which can be learnt through NCTJ courses) during the period the action happens, so you better get used to writing on you notepad without actually looking at it.

Of course there is no way of knowing when a massive event is about to unfold in a game, so you have to keep writing somewhat constantly and particularly when the teams(s) get the ball in dangerous areas. Remember too, it’s not just goals you need to report, it’s yellow/red cards, fights, chances, missed penalties, great saves and general commentary on the games narrative: ‘St.Madeupstone are seeing a lot of the ball, but Cantthinkofasecondname United are defending well, closing down aggressively and making decent counter-attacks.

These comments can be made through the centre of your drawn line, particularly when the ball goes out of play and there is some time to reflect on the game so far. The centralisation of your comment will establish to you that it is an overall thought about the match entirely, and not of a specific club.

Once you finish logging the game and the match is finished, you may use the team sheet, and find the player’s names through the numbers matching them on paper – turning ‘number 7’ into ‘actual first and second name.’

Straight after the game is when you need to write up your match report in the larger notepad. Make valuable use of your time commuting, whether you are on comfy train with a table or on a bus wedged between a fragile window and a pensioner, it’s an absolute must that you write out your report whilst it is still fresh in your mind.

At first you may find this hard, but after time you will surely be able write it up with relative ease and speed. After three games into my match-reporting career, I got my report sent-off within the hour of the final whistle. The professional journalists, working at the nationals, have a match report to ready to read online within about ten minutes of the game finishing.

It’s something I do not personally, yet most professionals will usually have the first half of a match report written during the half time interval. I prefer having a cup of tea and sandwich instead – again, these are not rules and regulations, just ideas and prompts to help you.

The aforementioned match I attended my first time, ended in a waterlogged pitch just before the game started. I actually thought the pouring rain attributed to the authenticity of watching a British, non-league game. The reason being that a tiny area of the pitch, just by an obscure side by the corner flag, was deemed unplayable. It was a nervy experience, as I seldom found anything online when I researched for advice.

So this is why I thought I would put some advice out there for the aspirational reporters who need it. For any budding sports writers who are approaching their very first match as a reporter.

Please feel free get in touch with me for any more advice, or see if you find any decent educational videos on YouTube from the pros.

You can find Jacque on Twitter here; @Jac_Talbot

Follow/abuse us on Twitter @GonzoSportsDesk, we’re not fancy we follow back.

Gonzo Guest Article; Money Talks and Goodbye to Jac

Jac has written a few pieces for the Gonzo team (can a team be one man? I don’t see why not, Manchester United were for a lot of last season but anyway) but now he’s moving on to pastures new. This will be his last for a while in all probability; he’ll be sorely missed as now I have to write my own stuff.  Here he examines whether or not money has ruined football.  You can find him here on Twitter @Jac_Talbot, or here – www.jactal.wordpress.com – on his very own shiny new site.  As ever publication doesn’t imply endorsement or agreement.

How money corrupts our football ideals

In 1996, Alan Shearer broke the British transfer record, with Newcastle paying just over £15million for him. Now 20 years later, Shearer’s a dull pundit and a 22-year-old Frenchman going by the name of Paul Pogba is about to smash the record again, with Manchester United set to pay £110million pounds for the midfielder.

Some will begrudgingly understand the climate of the modern game, whilst others will surely scoff and proclaim that this is just getting too much.

When the Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll transfers went through in January 2011, for a combined £80m+, there seemed to be a dawn upon the game; no more would a £10m transfer seem a hefty price, nor would the idea of the £40m sum swoop seem particularly devastating.

Nowadays it is customary to spend such large amounts on players with just a high-quality potential. There is also the added factor that many of the top-top teams (think of your Barcelonas, Real Madrids and Bayern Munichs), have formulated a habit of keeping the world’s best in their own circles.

Pogba is another instance of this. What’s been highlighted before is the fact that he now faces a year without Champions League football – the must-do stage for the stars to shine. As a man destined to be the world’s best he has, in actuality, sold himself short for monetary gain.

Lionel Messi, one of the world’s highest paid footballers, recently got a suspended jail sentence for tax fraud. The £200,000 weekly salary should have been enough for the Argentine superstar but seemingly it wasn’t.

Money also has a nasty habit of sabotaging ideals within football; passion, love, loyalty… all rendered essentially insignificant by cold hard cash. The unbelievable Premier League win by Leicester City spawned, as Claudio Ranieri put it, a dream-like-reality to which all the fans and players of the Foxes could be a part of.

This did not stop N’Golo Kante, the heart of Leicester’s team, jumping ship to mid-table Chelsea. This transfer epitomises the era we live in.  For me, the singular reason for Kante’s transfer was for higher wages – like Pogba, he misses out on Champions League football as a result of the move.

Professional footballers, have only one thing in mind; money. They do have a very short career span which averages to between 11-15 years. Post retirement there is not much they can do apart from coaching and punditry, and even then there are a very short amount of positions available.

Perhaps we should stop putting our faith in individual players and save our love purely for our clubs.

Follow/abuse us on Twitter @GonzoSportsDesk, we’re not fancy we follow back.

Premier League Contenders, part deux

No need for an intro to this one, here we go.

Arsenal. Best odds 13/2.

Arsenal are the joint third favourites alongside Chelsea with the bookies ahead of the big kick off. The Gunners managed to sneak second last season but their title bid had faded much earlier. Can they do it this year?

For: It could be Arsene Wenger’s last season in charge and he’ll be desperate to finish with some big silverware if that is the case.  Granit Xhaka is a top signing, perhaps just what they needed in midfield, and fellow summer recruit Rob Holding is also a decent acquisition, although whether he’ll have a big role to play in the season ahead remains unclear.  If they can get Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and a few others firing anything is possible

Against: If Wenger doesn’t agree a new deal or confirm that he’s leaving there will be a lot of uncertainty and that can have an impact on the squad.  Aside from that there are the usual doubts for the Emirates Stadium side.  Can they avoid their now standard mid-season slump? Will the rigours of European action prove detrimental to their domestic hopes? Can they win the league without a real marquee striker? Is their defence strong enough? And so on.

Tottenham Hotspur. Best odds 10/1.

Spurs gave Leicester the closest challenge last season but their form dipped at the end.  I’m quite tempted at 10/1 if I’m being honest, but I’m not sure whether or not I actually fancy them to win the league or if I just think they’re good value.

For: I’m convinced Spurs will continue on an upward trajectory under Mauricio Pochettino but whether or not that will result in a league title at some point is another question.  Vincent Janssen scored for fun in the Netherlands last season and could be the foil/competition Harry Kane needs to push on further.  Victor Wanyama is another shrewd bit of business from the White Hart Lane club and if Eric Dier and Dele Alli can continue to improve they look a stronger side than last season.

Against: There were a fair few Spurs men in the England squad this summer and none really came out with a great deal of credit, Dier aside perhaps.  Do they have the strength in depth to mount a sustained challenge if a key man gets injured?

Liverpool. Best odds 10/1.

Liverpool missed out on the top four last year but maybe they’d have made it if Jurgen Klopp had been in charge for the whole season, who knows?

For: Klopp is a quality manager and – like Pochettino at Spurs – I can only see the Anfield side improving under his guidance.  The capture of Loris Karius this summer was a great move and I think he’ll move ahead of Simon Mignolet in the pecking order when he returns from an untimely injury.  Maybe they overpaid for Sadio Mane but he’s a proven Premier League forward and Joel Matip from Schalke was another good move, I’ll confess I’ve not seen fellow new boy Ragnar Klavan enough to pass comment.

Against: Looking at their squad, I don’t see their best 11 as a title winning side.  I could be wrong of course (who picked out Leicester last year?) and Klopp is a brilliant tactician and motivator – he managed to wrestle the Bundesliga title away from Bayern Munich twice with Borussia Dortmund.  The hunger among the Anfield faithful for silverware might see Liverpool really go for one or both of the cups and that might see them fall short in a Premier League bid.

Leicester. Best odds 33/1.

Has anyone mentioned Leicester were 5000/1 at the start of last season? This year the holders are 33/1.

For: They did it last year and Jamie Vardy didn’t join Arsenal.  If they can keep Riyad Mahrez and find an N’Golo Kante replacement, which they may already have done with Nampalys Medny then who knows?

Against: Losing Kante was a hammer blow to any hopes the Foxes had of retaining the title.  Personally, I don’t think they’ll do it but then again I didn’t last year.  I did believe a bit before most though and am still kicking myself I didn’t jump on and back them at 20/1 around January – stupid Gonzo. They’ll be a real target now as holders as well of course, other than that the big questions are can their squad maintain the levels they managed last season? And will the Champions League prove to be too much of an ask on what is a fairly small group of players in comparison to their rivals? My guess is No and Yes respectively for those two.

And there we go, I’m not going to pick out a winner but I think the title will probably be heading to Manchester. Liverpool are 13/8 to finish in the top four and Spurs are 11/8 – at least one of them will do it I’d think.  Leicester meanwhile are 12/5 to finish in the top six, which is still a big ask but more than doable.

I’ve used Oddschecker for the best prices.

Follow/abuse us on Twitter @GonzoSportsDesk, we’re not fancy we follow back.

Premier League Contenders, part 1.

Last season Leicester City won the Premier League having been 5000/1 at the start of the season, a fact everyone must know by now.  You won’t get anywhere near that price on anyone this year though, the bookies have topped out at 1500/1 for the likes of West Brom, Watford, Sunderland and Bournemouth as well as the three newly-promoted clubs; Middlesbrough, Hull and Burnley.

I’m not going to plump for a winner at this stage myself, at least not until all the transfer business is done, but I thought I’d take a look at the contenders as the season draws closer.

Manchester City. Best price 13/5.

City were never really in it last year, at least not in the second half of the season.  I don’t think the timing of the Pep Guardiola announcement helped them really, it can’t have been too easy for Manuel Pellegrini to motivate his players with everyone knowing he was on his way out.  Expectations are high this year though following the arrival of the Catalan coach. Can he do it in his first season in England?

For: Guardiola himself is a serial winner but this could be his biggest challenge to date, will he be able to hit the ground running or will the transition to England’s top flight take a while? Only time will tell. They’ve done some good, if a tad limited, business so far this summer with the captures of Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito and Alexander Zinchenko. Gundogan is pure class, Nolito carries a real goal threat but I’ve not seen enough of Zinchenko to comment.

Against: Their defence looks a little suspect still and will anyone be able to fill the void should Sergio Aguero sustain an injury? What about Vincent Kompany? They looked poor without him last season and as yet there have been no recruits at the back should he suffer another injury-hit campaign. They are working on bringing in some defensive reinforcements but so far their pursuit of John Stones has proved fruitless.

City have every chance but at 13/5 I won’t be risking any money on them just yet, a new centre-half or two and I might change my mind.

Manchester United. Best price 18/5.

Like City, United were way out of the title battle last season but the arrival of Jose Mourinho as manager has seen them installed as the second favourites.  He does have experience of winning the Premier League of course, still this price looks a little short to me.

For: Mourinho is the big draw but they’ve brought in some good signings as well.  Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a top performer, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is guaranteed goals, even at the grand old age of 34, and moving Wayne Rooney back into a more advanced position could pay dividends.  If Paul Pogba joins they’ll be a real force, and the lack of Champions League football could allow them to focus more on domestic glory.

Against: United carried too many passengers last season as only a handful performed at the level required – Mourinho has to make sure everyone, or at least his first 11, are at the top of their game.  And how long will it take to get over the hangover of Louis van Gaal’s time in charge?

Chelsea. Best price 6/1.

If United and City were off the pace last season, Chelsea weren’t even in the same race. They find themselves as the third favourites this year though and again a new boss, Antonio Conte, is the reason for the optimism.

For:  The turmoil of the early part of last season appears to now be over thanks to Guus Hiddink’s second interim spell so I wouldn’t worry about that too much. In terms of transfers, N’Golo Kante is a brilliant signing and Michy Batshuayi has a lot of promise.  Like United, there is no Champions League to worry about and the Premier League will be the primary target.

Against: Conte knows how to build a team, he left Juventus years ago and the bones of his side is still winning Serie A every year.  It might not be instant success at Chelsea but if they keep the faith in the wily old Italian it will pay off, which may not translate into instant success in the coming campaign.  Again a lot will depend on how quickly Conte can adapt, and they probably need a few more additions to be truly competitive in the title battle.  Will Diego Costa stay or will a replacement be required? And if he does stay, will Chelsea see the best of him or will we see some petulance? What about John Terry, can the aging war-horse keep playing at the top level throughout a whole season?

My concern with all three of the favourites is the new manager factor.  The prices on City and United are way too short to tempt me, Chelsea look a good prospect at 6/1 though so if you fancy the Londoners I’d get on now before they bring in any more players and the odds shorten.

I was going to cover all the contenders but this already long enough so I’ll end it here.  I’ll be back in a few days with Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and champions Leicester.

As always I’ve used Oddschecker to hunt out the best prices, I’m not affiliated with them and there are other services available but these guys are the best in my experience.

Follow/abuse us on Twitter @GonzoSportsDesk, we’re not fancy we follow back.

Wayne Rooney; Time to hand over the England captaincy reins?

Finally, Big Sam is in.  It took an age for the Football Association to confirm the news but on Friday Sam Allardyce was unveiled as the new England manager.

Make no mistake the former Bolton, Blackburn, Newcastle, West Ham and Sunderland boss will want to put his own stamp on the team. Could that include taking the captaincy from Wayne Rooney?

He’s keeping his cards pretty close to his chest right now. Perhaps he hasn’t made up his mind, or maybe he has but is yet to select a successor, who knows?

This is all he had to say on the matter when asked at his press conference today: “No, it’s far too early [to say whether Wayne Rooney will be captain] or make any more predictions of that kind.”

And that’s your lot. I’m going to take it at face value and assume he hasn’t decided yet.  Rooney took the armband after Steve Gerrard’s international retirement following the World Cup two years ago and until Euro 2016 it was a relatively successful stint, but then came another disappointing England showing at a major tournament and here we are.

My gut feeling is Allardyce could decide a change in captain is needed but Rooney might keep the honour for the first few games, starting with a World Cup qualifier in Slovakia in September.  In the long-term, Big Sam will want a player with a settled role and place in the side as his skipper and at the moment I don’t think Rooney has that.

In some ways his own qualities have worked against him after he was slotted into a midfield role by former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal.  Roy Hodgson went down a similar path with Rooney at England level and aside from the odd solid display it just never really looked like he was comfortable in his new position, at times in France this summer he went missing completely and you just cannot allow that to happen with a captain.

LVG wanted Rooney to evolve into that midfield role and Rooney himself said it was something he’d always thought may happen but the change in manager at Old Trafford has thrown that into doubt, if not completely out the window.  Jose Mourinho has stressed he sees the former Everton man as a forward so if he does return to a more advanced role on a regular basis at club level it is pretty safe to assume he will do the same internationally.

And if that happens, will he be a regular starter for England?  Will Allardyce select him ahead of the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Harry Kane, Danny Welbeck and Jamie Vardy? I’m not so sure.  Allardyce will want to build a settled team, he’ll give people a chance that’s for sure but by the time the World Cup rolls around in two years he’ll have a rough idea of his best 11 and will a 32-year-old Rooney be a part of that? Only time will tell but Allardyce has to make his captaincy call before then and that may well be the deciding factor here.

So far the new Three Lions boss has probably played it about as well as he could have done.  There’s no need to make any rash decisions or create any big headlines like ‘Big Sam strips Rooney of captaincy’ straight from the off, certainly not before he’s met with the group and spoken to the United man face-to-face for the first time in his new role.

As an aside, for anyone out there with any concerns over Allardyce’s abilities to handle players I’ll ease your mind right now.  During his time as Bolton boss he got El Hadji Diouf performing on a consistent basis and working as an effective member of a team, the Senegalese forward was a notoriously difficult character and no one managed him as well as Big Sam.  He may cite the fact Nicolas Anelka, Youri Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okocha and Fernando Hierro played under him at Bolton as proof of his man-management skills but there can be no better example than Diouf.

And what if Rooney were stripped of the captaincy, would he continue playing for England? Only he knows the answer to that question but I suspect he would and if not, so what? We move on.

Further reading:

Jose Mourinho on Rooney

Rooney on Rooney

Sam Allardyce press conference

El Hadji Diouf

Big Sam pros and cons

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Sam Allardyce for England; Pros and Cons

It’s 2006, England have just been dumped out of the World Cup by Portugal in the quarter-finals and Sven Goran-Eriksson, a meticulous if uninspiring manager, has stepped down.  The hunt is on for a new boss and Sam Allardyce of Bolton Wanderers is waiting for the call.

But instead the FA turn to Steve McClaren.

Allardyce probably thought that was his chance gone, after McClaren’s disappointing stint they went for a foreign boss again with Fabio Capello – another poor appointment that never really seemed to fit. Then came Roy Hodgson and here we are, 10 years later in an almost identical, if not slightly more embarrassing/depressing/worrying (delete as appropriate), situation to when Sven left, and Big Sam’s back on the table.

Sam Allardyce Pros.

Man Management: Many who have played under Allardyce highlight his man management skills, he considers it one of his strong points himself and he does have a record that largely proves that theory.  Under his guidance Bolton finished in the top eight of the Premier League four years in a row (he left before the end of the fourth year but the job was basically done), Blackburn were relatively comfortable in mid table during his time as boss, somehow he kept Sunderland up last season – these were over achievements considering the squads he had. Newcastle was a blip but he’s had a long career, a perfect record would have been unlikely and in any case he wasn’t given a fair amount of time on Tyneside.

Passion: I can imagine Allardyce giving under-performing players an absolute roasting at half-time and sometimes you feel that’s what England need.  I can’t envisage that kind of stuff from the Hodgsons and Erikssons of this world.

Comedy: Let’s face it, England are a poor team and failure is inevitable at some point.  They’ve won one major trophy in their history – compare that to the Germans, Italians etc,  woeful – really, semi-finals is about as good as it gets.  Knowing this, having a manager who offers a bit of entertainment would be a welcome bonus in the painful world of following the England football team, and I for one have had enough of dour interviews; at least with Big Sam you get an attempt at wit, a sound bite for the press, some razzle dazzle of sorts. Here are a few good quotes to demonstrate this.

“I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn, I would be more suited to Internazionale or Real Madrid. It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the Double or the league every time.”

“I won’t ever be going to a top-four club because I’m not called Allardici, just Allardyce.”

Absolute gold.

He’s on Twitter: That’s right, you could troll the England boss if Allardyce is handed the reins. Not my thing (the odd spot of Boris Johnson baiting of late aside in my first-foray into the crazy world of cyber bullying, and he’s big enough and ugly enough to take it) but it is nice to have the option, even if there is a very real chance he hasn’t worked out how to see his mentions/replies etc, yet alone bothers to check them. Find him @OfficialBigSam.

Sam Allardyce Cons.

He’s never won a major trophy: The closest he’s come so far is runner-up in the League Cup with Bolton back in 2004, losing to Middlesbrough in the final in a game that may have ultimately seen McClaren get the nod at his expense two years later.  He has won in high pressure situations though – winning the Championship play-off final twice, first with Bolton and then West Ham, as well as countless relegation ‘six pointers’.  So yes, the fact he hasn’t landed any big silverware is a blow but by no means a terminal one to his chances of replacing Roy.

Tactics: One-dimensional, long-ball merchants, uninspiring, boring… these are among the more polite adjectives used to describe Allardyce’s teams over the years but personally I think he gets a bit of a rough ride. He’d argue that it feeds on a perception created during his time as Bolton boss, inspired by rival managers like Arsene Wenger, Graeme Souness and more, that has dogged him ever since.  There is more than a grain of truth in both the criticism and his own defence, but some of the football played under his watch at Upton Park and the Reebok Stadium was pretty decent.  Besides, have England’s tactics worked particularly well in competitions in recent times? No, no they have not.

West Ham have been much better under Slaven Bilic: This is a fair call, they have.  Allardyce guided them to 12th place with 47 points in his final season in charge, Bilic managed 62, a seventh place finish and they scored 21 more goals.  The one stat in Allardyce’s favour is goals against, with his Hammers conceding four less. In three seasons in the Premier League Allardyce’s best result was 10th with West Ham.  There are a few mitigating factors, Bilic had Dimitri Payet for one and it turns out he’s one of the best players in the world now so that always helps.  It was also the last campaign at Upton Park but I can only speculate as to what, if any, impact that had on results. My guess for what it’s worth would be it was quite the motivator.  Bilic has made the better signings – but you don’t get to do that as England boss anyway so that’s perhaps a moot point.

In Conclusion

Big Sam probably wouldn’t be my top choice in a world of endless possibilities but in terms of English managers he’s the pick of a slim selection.  Eddie Howe is also up there as a contender and again I’d be happy enough with that.  This has been a bit of a pro-Allardyce piece granted, but the English have a tendency to just slam a manager and a need to be won over, how about this time the fans get behind whoever is chosen as boss until he messes up? Rather than wait for the opportunity to say ‘I told you so’. A radical idea I know but after being humbled by Iceland anything’s worth a shot.

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How Could a Leave Vote Impact on the Premier League?

Currently there are no restrictions on Premier League clubs signing players from other EU countries as long as they have space in their squad and are complying to the ‘home grown’ quota, but that could and probably will all change if the UK votes to leave the EU.

Let’s get any notion that there are any certainties out of the way right from the off.  The truth is; no one actually knows what the exact ramifications of a ‘Brexit’ will be no matter what either the Remain or Leave campaigns say.  We don’t give a net figure of £350million-a-week to the EU, a lot of that is offset with subsidies; the net contribution is closer to £160million-a-week not taking into account any economic benefits we receive from being a part of the union – the UK could even be in profit depending on some figures doing the rounds.  Nor are ‘two thirds of British jobs in manufacturing’ dependent on the EU; a closer estimate is 15% and even then that doesn’t necessarily mean those jobs are dependent on being a member of the EU, although the consensus among the experts is the UK will be financially worse off in the increasingly likely event of a break from the Europe.

That’s just one myth from either side debunked amid these wild claims being thrown at us on all too frequent intervals.  Both have a flimsy facade of dealing in facts but really it is all just speculation.  I cannot state with any guarantee that the scenarios I envisage below will play out word for word, I’m in the fog of uncertainty but it seems safe to say leaving the EU would have an impact on the Premier League.

Players from the EU could be subject to the same restrictions as non-EU players

A club wanting to sign a non-EU player has to apply for a work permit and the following criteria must be met:

‘A player must have played for his country in at least 75% of its competitive ‘A’ team matches he was available for selection, during the two years preceding the date of the application; and,

The player’s country must be at or above 70th place in the official FIFA world rankings when averaged over the two years preceding the date of the application.’

Incidentally, Manchester City’s new signing Ilkay Gundogan wouldn’t fit the bill.  I’d argue he’s probably the best central midfielder Germany have to offer but injury means he’s managed just five appearances in 11 competitive fixtures. Pep Guardiola could technically have been denied the man he opted to move for first after his switch to the Etihad in a post-EU exit Britain.

These restrictions were initially in response to the suggestion British clubs were ignoring English talent in favour of foreign players.  Since 2013 those rules have been stringently enforced, although it is possible to appeal if a player does not meet said criteria, prior to that ‘having the capacity to invest’ £1million or more was a humongous loophole in getting a visa – basically a big wage and you were in.

Those rules are specifically phrased as ‘non-EU’ players so it makes sense to assume that would quickly become non-UK players in the event of a victory for the Vote Leave campaign in the EU referendum. It is less clear what would happen to players already under contract but I would imagine they would allow current deals to be honoured. My thinking is the FA would allow a footballer’s contract to supersede an out vote as moving the goal posts isn’t really on when there’s so much at stake for the player himself and, more importantly, the clubs who have invested in their squads. It would be grossly unfair on the clubs to be forced into fire-sales as they would lose valuable assets for cut-price fees.

If we leave, a German could be an Argentine or a Frenchman could be South Korean it won’t make any difference to clubs trying to employ them, they’d all have to be internationals who regularly play in qualifiers and tournament games.  The exact wording is ‘played for his country’ not selected in the squad, so you’re looking at the starters and regular subs, Manchester United could forget David de Gea and the concept of Bojan at Stoke would be as ridiculous as it was before it actually happened.

But would that promote English talent and as such make the England international side stronger?

On a grand scale, almost certainly yes, as there would be more English players in the top flight.  But in the microcosm of the best 23-man squad for a tournament the argument for a stronger England team is a little shaky.

On the one hand enforcing the current foreign player rules on professionals from EU states would provide a bigger pool of options playing in a top league for the Three Lions to call upon. On the flip side is the idea that the better the opposition the better you have to be as coming up against the best the world has to offer on a weekly basis breeds improvement.  Ultimately, the view you take on this is simply which side of the argument you agree with. 

My viewpoint is the cream of English talent will rise to the top regardless and putting further restrictions on foreign imports won’t be a huge benefit to the national side.  Rather than facing world-class defenders week in, week out, the likes of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy would be up against centre-halves who currently play at Championship level. Would they be as good if that were the case? Pretty soon we may find out.

At the Premier League’s inception in the 1992-93 season only 11 players named in the starting line-ups for the first round of matches were from outside the UK or Ireland, approximately 4.5%, but by 2009 under 40% of the players in the Premier League were English (thanks Wikipedia). But is the England team now markedly worse than the national side from the early 90s?  I would argue not particularly, you could use Italia 90 as an example where they reached the semi-finals, but four years later England failed to qualify for the World Cup in the USA.

Consider the England squad at Euro 2016 as an example; a number of quality players were left behind so it can’t really be said Roy Hodgson doesn’t have enough options.  The likes of Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Jermain Defoe, Ryan Shawcross, Theo Walcott, Mark Noble, Michael Carrick, Andy Carroll, Andros Townsend, Jack Butland, Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs, Luke Shaw, Fabian Delph and Phil Jones are all missing (admittedly some due to injury), that’s not even mentioning the travesty that is Danny Drinkwater’s omission.

In the event of a Brexit I expect the FA to enforce the current non-EU rules on all non British players.  Their ‘home grown’ rule was designed to promote English talent and considering they are already planning on making that rule stricter* I can’t envisage a scenario where they would change that tactic to allow dispensations for the signing of EU players in the event of an exit.  Such a situation will almost certainly lower the standard of the Premier League as a whole.

It would have a knock-on effect right the way down the football pyramid; from around the late 1990s the standards further down the divisions have improved due to the influx of top European talent in the Premier League, as the better players from the home nations filter down the divisions.  Derby’s Will Hughes and Sheffield Wednesday star Fernando Forestieri, for example, wouldn’t be playing in the Championship that’s for sure, the former because he’d be in the Premier League and the latter would be playing in Europe.

The squads at Old Trafford, the Emirates, Stamford Bridge, the Etihad Stadium and Anfield would look a lot different, as would every Premier League clubs come to think of it.  I don’t think there is an argument to suggest the division would get stronger if the UK leaves the EU.  There’s also the chance the bigger clubs would be hit less hard than the smaller ones.  If only top internationals could be signed by the likes of the Manchester powerhouses and London’s big guns a huge schism in quality could be created – as if the case in La Liga with Barcelona, Real Madrid and (against the odds) Atletico Madrid vastly superior to their rivals, although that is down to raw financial muscle rather than employment restrictions but the end would be much the same.  A repeat of Leicester’s title success, regarded by many as one of the greatest/most incredible events in Premier League history, would be even more unlikely.

What would happen to the Premier League as a product?

Football is a commodity, to use that hoary old chestnut, and the Premier League draws a huge audience from across the globe.  Most figures suggest it is the most watched league in world football and the latest TV rights deal backs that idea up.  But if the quality of the product is lowered, will there still be such a great demand?

Probably not. Interest would drop and La Liga, the Bundesliga and Serie A would be the ones to benefit as attentions would be turned away from England and into mainland Europe.  It stands to reason and I’ll use chocolate as an example; Cadbury’s changed the recipe of their Creme Egg product by replacing the Dairy Milk shell with a cheaper variation, leading to a £6million slump in sales. No matter how good a marketing campaign is quality will eventually win out and if the standard is higher in Spain, Germany, Italy and perhaps France the fans across the globe will drift away from the Premier League.

If we make it harder to bring in Europe’s top stars to the Premier League the viewing figures from across the channel will surely slide.  Belgium have loads of their best players in England but would fans in Brussels and Bruges still tune in to watch Manchester City and Liverpool if Kevin De Bruyne and Divock Origi weren’t playing there? I doubt it. Consider when David Beckham played for Real Madrid, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain, suddenly stories regarding those teams were more prominent in the news… and I wonder how many Los Blancos shirts have been sold in Wales since Gareth Bale became a Galactico.

Lower interest will lead to less money, and with that inevitably comes a further drop in quality.  Indeed a nightmare scenario could see foreign investors, the Abramovich and Glazer types, losing interest and abandoning their respective clubs.  This is very much a worse-case outcome of course but the threat is certainly there in the long-term even if it isn’t an immediate concern.

On the other hand it could result in a cheaper overall experience for the British fan as ticket prices may be lowered and TV subscriptions could become cheaper.  My gut feeling is the clubs and broadcasters will try and charge as much as they can for as long as they can to resist any sizeable price drop but if fans feel they’re not getting value for money that kind of policy can’t last forever.

It may also lead to the top English players departing the Premier League in search of a higher standard of football.  Would you rather play for Manchester United and have a chance to win the top domestic prize but have no hope of European glory, or would you rather move to Bayern Munich and challenge for the Champions League on a regular basis on a higher wage?  I know which one I’d go for.

I had hoped to produce a more balanced view rather than the doomsday scenarios I’ve suggested above.  I’ve also worked under the assumption that ‘non-EU’ rules will be enforced on all non-UK players, given the developments in the ‘home grown’* rule and the fact EU nationals (from across the spectrum of society, not just in football) would have the same laws placed on them in regards to working in the UK as those from outside the union, and if that doesn’t happen then changes will be minimal – if there are any at all. It could also be said that the Premier League and FA will want to protect their product as much as possible, and as such it is entirely plausible that they’ll come up with a new set of rules to allow the system to stay similar to how it is now, if not exactly the same. The reason I think it will go the other way is based on FA chairman Greg Dyke’s home grown push and a belief that sport won’t be made exempt from any new employment laws in the result of a break from the EU.

For what it’s worth I don’t think ‘what could happen to the Premier League?’ should influence anyone’s decision ahead of the EU referendum, but to assume football would be immune from any adverse effects if Britain does break from Europe is probably very naive.

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Picture credit: Gwydion M. Williams on Flickr.

Further Reading;

Foreign player rules in the Premier League, via Wikipedia.

Home Grown rules, via Wikipedia.

*Further changes planned to the Home Grown Rules, via The FA.

 

Gonzo Guest Article; football fandom & why do we care?

The latest offering from regular guest contributor Jacque Talbot, here he asks why do we care so much about our chosen teams?

Personally I’ve got no idea anymore, my club have hurt me more than any woman ever has yet still I come back for more punishment. Like a dog who doesn’t realise his owner’s a complete bastard… You can follow Jacque on Twitter @Jac_Talbot.

My companions or family will often complain about the amount of time I spend watching/interacting/speaking/reading/thinking about football. They ponder as to why I can be so obsessed by something to which I have no involvement or control over. My yelling abuse at the players on TV regrettably has no impact and I am unfortunately still no more telepathic than I was before. Yes, it is true that our unwavering love with our clubs would seem rather peculiar to the average spectator, but it begs the question: Why do we care?

Most academic scholars have agreed that the pinnacle reason behind supporting a football team, is that you are giving yourself way to let your masculinity run wild. Though this argument is somewhat benign nowadays, considering one-upmanship is more derived through, say – someone who can make a wittier and degrading meme on Twitter, rather than someone who possesses raw brawn.  Surely anthological theorems cannot singularly account for justification of fandom?

I recently got stuck in a YouTube whirlpool of watching England fans sing songs such as Vindaloo and Three Lions in foreign stadiums. I had absolute Goosebumps – that’s our fans I thought, that’s our team, my team. I was proud, even though there wasn’t any reason for me to be – I hadn’t done anything to merit an inclusion in the fan’s camaraderie on screen. I was merely an outsider spectating the scenes. I happily imagined people from around the world talking to one another: ‘that England lot are a barmy bunch’. ‘Yes we are’ I thought, glowing in admiration for myself.

I believe that we can autonomously find ourselves attracted to our chosen clubs by way of their virtues and ideals, with this being particularly apt when people choose clubs which are far away from themselves. For example, our conceptions about a bloke from say – Cumbria, who is fairly new to football. He decides his club to be Chelsea FC and in doing so, he will establish himself among other fans as one who, to put it lightly – perhaps chooses pragmatism over heart and soul. This judgement cast upon him may be of some substance, but his support still must be dignified as with any other. As it is Chelsea that he feels a connection with, it is that club who he feels embodies his character. He has chosen this particular club because it will warrant a conception from others about him, of which he feels is positive.

On a local parameter, supporting football teams is a way of exercising unity. A city’s football team gives a representation of its cultural ideas, and in the action of being supported by a particular person there is an embracement of the club’s core beliefs by the individual. This person will see himself as in alliance with the club, and act in keeping with its personal values – something called ‘group mentality’ which actually is in the domain of ‘cult’ theory.

I believe the nature of our relationship with our club’s is truly sacred, as we see a quality of ourselves in them of which we pride. Don’t let others scrutinise it – of course it’s a bit a ridiculous to so get emotionally ingrained over something of which you no control, but that’s probably the magic of it, right?

If you’re wondering why the ‘weird news’ picture has been used, that’s just because the good folks at Google like pics and I want to keep them happy.

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