West Ham - Safe for another year.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Yesterday I wrote about Hull City and their current plight. Today marks the turn of West Ham who are all but safe for another season in the Premier League after last weekend’s crucial victory at Upton Park against Wigan, running out 3-2 winners on the day.

While the club maybe safe in the knowledge that they will be playing top flight football next season their current crop of players are not guaranteed to be turning out for the Hammers.

Co-owner David Sullivan has revealed this week that the club will accept offers on all players bar talismanic midfielder Scott Parker. He said: “Other than Scott Parker there is not a player we wouldn’t sell if it was the right bid”.

Sullivan and his business partner and co-owner David Gold are already planning for next season. They have already had a £4million bid for Graham Dorrans rejected by West Brom. It is clear that right now they are effectively managing the club on all levels.

The position of manager Gianfranco Zola is still questionable with conflicting reports coming from the club saying he “might resign” at the end of the season.

A couple of weeks ago it looked like he had given up all hope after six consecutive defeats he travelled home to Sardinia before coming back to fight on. Since then he has managed to rally the troops with two wins, one draw and one defeat which was to Liverpool at Anfield.

Personally, it is hard to see Zola retaining his position as manager of West Ham for next season, but it is certainly through no fault of his own. Managers such as Steve McClaren, Mark Hughes and Slaven Bilic have already been linked with Zola's job.

The problem also lies with Sullivan and Gold, Zola is not their manager he just happened to be in charge when they took over, therefore they will be looking to bring in their own man who can take the club forward.

Clearly the current crop of West Ham players are not up to scratch, apart from the outstanding and ever professional Scott Parker. If the rest of the squad were to show his hunger, desire and drive then they would not have been embroiled in a relegation battle.

Off the field there are also a lot of problems. The club were heading towards administration with debts of around £110million before Gold and Sullivan took over from Icelandic bank Straumur at Upton Park in January. Of that debt around £50million is owed to banks and £40million to other clubs for transfer fees.

Therefore, matters are not playing sailing for the Hammers just yet. There will certainly be a lot going out of West Ham during the summer, but who goes out and who comes in remains to be seen. It’ll certainly be one to keep an eye on over the coming weeks and months.


First, relegation. Next, administration?

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Last weekend virtually ended Hull City’s time as a Premier League club when they lost out to Sunderland 1-0, with fellow strugglers West Ham beating Wigan 3-2. Relegation was always going to be an issue for the Tigers this season after they managed to stay up last term, only just, might I add, surviving by one single point.

Now faced with the prospect of playing Championship football next season the future looks to be bleak for Hull. Already they are in serious trouble of going into administration and preparations have begun to restructure the club and its loans.

The figures which stick out are the current level of debt which stands at £35million; however, as we know with Portsmouth this could be even higher. Also, the wage bill stands at a staggering £40million, which is expected to be reduced to £15million before the start of next season.

One Premier League club has already gone into administration this season and that is the aforementioned Portsmouth, but there are now fears Hull City could be following them down the same road. There are serious questions which need to be answered in regards to the players Phil Brown signed during his tenure.

Jimmy Bullard is currently on a reported £45,000 a week and has made it clear that he intends to see out the remained of his three year contract with the Tigers.
Similar to West Ham there will most likely be a fire sale of players during the summer, in particular, valuable ones such as Stephen Hunt (currently injured) goalkeeper Boaz Myhill and Bullard would all be favourites to be offloaded.

Then there is still the issue with Phil Brown who was placed on “gardening leave” in March after a run of four defeats. He was replaced with by Iain Dowie who is now the “Football Management Consultant” until the end of the season.

It remains to be seen as to who will lead Hull in the Championship next but Chairman Adam Pearson has not ruled out the possibility of Brown coming back as manager. He said: “Could I work with Phil Brown again? I don’t see why not.”

“He’s definitely technically and contractually still the manager of this club. I haven’t discussed this with the owner or with Phil yet. But it is an option to bring Phil back in.”

Will he be welcomed back to the club with open arms? Certainly not, especially judging by George Boetang’s comments last Saturday, where he had some harsh words for Brown.

'When the new staff came in it gave us a bit of hope because the squad were not behind Phil Brown, said Boateng

He also went on to say: ‘Iain Dowie hasn’t taken us down; we were down before because Phil Brown made essential errors that caused us to lose many games.’

Owner Russell Bartlett and Chairman Adam Pearson have already begun restructuring the club to avoid going into either administration or a Creditors Voluntary Agreement (CVA). If they were to enter either of those then they would start off next season on -10 points.

Since the 2003-04 season the club has been on the rise. That season they played in the old third division under Peter Taylor in which the finished second and were promoted to the newly reformed League One where they won promotion again.

After spending two seasons in the Championship they gained promotion to the Premier League in 2007-08. That dream is now over and with the current financial plight Hull is in danger of slipping back down the leagues.

Sadly, they like others before them have “lived the dream” and enjoyed life at the top but now they could be in for a dramatic fall.


McClaren’s road to redemption

Friday, 23 April 2010

He may still be dubbed as “the Wally with the Brolly” in England after that infamous defeat to Croatia at Wembley where the national side failed to qualify for the 2008 European Championships. While, in Holland Steve McClaren may soon become known as “the man who wins plenty with FC Twente.”

Having guided Twente to runners-up spot in the Dutch league in his first season in charge, McClaren is now on the verge of winning the Eredivisie with the club. It would be their first time winning since reforming as FC Twente in 1965 - they have won the league previously in 1926 when they were known as Sportclub Enschede.

With one game left to the go Twente remain top of the league one point ahead of second placed Ajax. If McClaren does indeed win the title then he is well on his way to recovering his reputation. He has already been short listed for coach of the year along with Ajax's Martin Jol, Feyenoord's Mario Been and Heracles Almelo's Gertjan Verbeek.

Clubs in England are beginning to take a notice in his achievements with West Ham looking for his services. But the former Middlesbrough manager has been quoted in the past as saying: “I’ve no idea if I’ll ever go back to coaching in England. I’ve long since stopped planning my career in terms of ‘I’d like to do this or that.’”

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of his achievements with the current crop of players is that he has not brought over any English players, instead going for home-grown talent along with coaches from Holland.

In recent interview with the Guardian he talked about this: "My assistants are all Dutch; there are some fantastic young coaches here. I thought it was important to embrace and understand the culture of the club and Dutch football rather than import a different one.”

Twente’s rise is certainly one for all to take note of. Over the past nine years they have been climbing the table slowly but surely from 12th in 2003 up 6th in 2005 before a minor blip which saw them drop to 9th in 2006, then two fourth place finishes and of course last season they were runners-up to AZ Alkmaar.

There has also been a consistent air about their performance this season. Certainly their home record speaks for itself – winning 16 of their 17 games at De Grolsch Veste and drawing the other, similar to Ajax.

Certainly, it is amazing to look at the league table and see Ajax’s goal difference of +83 having scored 102 goals and conceded just 19 and still not be on top of the league. But, as well all know victories and points are what really matter and that is where Twente hold the advantage going into the final round of fixtures on May 2nd.

Sir Bobby Robson, advised McClaren to take the job with Twente. So, it is perhaps fitting that if his side is to beat NAC Breda on Sunday week he will become the first English manager since Robson at Porto in 1996 to win a major European league title.

Now, if that isn’t redemption then I don’t know what is. Should he comeback and manage in England? Maybe not just yet, but certainly one day.


The future of Mancherster United - Smalling & Hernandez

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Chris Smalling has been on a momentous journey, over the past two years, he has gone from non-league football in the Isthmian League with Maidstone to Premier League football with Fulham. He will now move on to the biggest club in the league (no, not Manchester City) but rivals Manchester United, despite only making a handful of appearances for the Cottagers.

Javier Hernandez or as he is also known “Chicharito” meaning Little Pea plies his trade at Guadalajara in Mexico and like Smalling will move to the Red Devils after the World Cup where he will become the first Mexican to join Manchester United. These two players are the future of the club which is £700m in debt.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s comments were particularly interesting on Hernandez: “Players like Hernandez - we have been historically very good at developing”. Ferguson has also begun to enter into the business lingo using words such as “resale value” lately.

So, is this the way the club will be going now – buying hot prospects and youth players in order to sell them on at a profit?

I believe it is. Smalling and Hernandez are both young, ambitious players and if all goes well for them at Manchester United they could, and I emphasise could be sold on at a significant profit. Fail to make an impact and they will end up on the scrapheap with famous flops such as – Eric Djemba-Djemba.

The signing of Hernandez came the same week as United were knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich, however, more importantly, it was also reported that the club had turned down the chance to sign Valencia’s David Villa. Another sign that the mountain of debt is beginning to catch up on the club, perhaps?

Apparently buying Villa would have been a risk because there would not be profit made on him in the future and considering he is 28, possibly four to five years playing at United he would be 32 and no club would pay in excess of £40million for him.

It is fair to say in light of recent performances and in the absence of Wayne Rooney that the £30.75m spent on Dimitar Berbatov was a waste of money. Therefore, it is probably best that he is the last big money signing of his kind.

"Occasionally we do go into the transfer market for mature players," insisted Ferguson. "Berbatov was 27 when he came to us but you have to ask yourself if when a 27-year-old fulfils his contract for five years he will have little resale value."

Since when has Fergie been worried about resale value?

Who knows what David Villa might have been like had he joined, somehow I think he would not fail as spectacularly as the Bulgarian.

So many questions and so little answers. Fergie is the master of smoke and mirrors which we discovered last Wednesday night. It could be another interesting summer where not just transfers are concerned at Old Trafford.

As the master said himself – “Football, bloody hell.”


Refereeing - Is it time for change in the UK?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Mike Dean has been demoted to Championship football this weekend following his – as the Guardian describes it – “erratic” display at Old Trafford last weekend in the game between Manchester United and Chelsea.

His linesman on the day Simon Beck has also been demoted having failed to raise his flag when Didier Drogba was clearly in an offside position when he scored Chelsea’s second goal of the game.

The pair will now take charge of Bristol City's home game against Swansea on Saturday. But, is this really a good enough solution from the Referees Association?

For me, it is blatantly obvious that they have identified the poor performance from the officials in question yet the solution is the ignominy of being demoted.

Admittedly, the errors on the day did cancel each other out – both Manchester United and Chelsea, were denied clear penalties by Dean. Gary Neville barged into Nicolas Anelka while Yuri Zhirkov tripped Park Ji-Sung in the box.

Perhaps due to pressure from his previous game in where he awarded a penalty after Blackburn’s Martin Olsson deceived him with a dive - Dean was never going to give one at Old Trafford.

And while as I mentioned before, Drogba’s goal was offside, Manchester United did manage to clamour a goal back – which was handled in by Fredrico Macheda, therefore you could say fair is fair, right? Wrong.

Sir Alex Ferguson – who is more critical on referees than most called it a "poor, poor performance” before saying "When I saw it was Mike Dean I did worry, I have to say."

Time and time again we hear about the Respect campaign, yet, with all the injustices that seem to be occurring in the game these days – it is hard to abide by this and give referees the respect the obviously deserve.

Former referee Graham Poll wrote in his autobiography - “We are not there to be liked. We are there to try to make the right decisions.”

So many of the calls they make are incorrect. There is a distinct lack of consistency from referees also. Mistakes are part of all walks of life – you and I will both accept that, but it is simply not good enough in football anymore. Each game has so much riding on it – be it promotion, relegation and even reputation.

These days it is easy to cry wolf and call for video technology to be introduced at every little injustice but for how long more do we have to live with these errors?

Does a showpiece tournament such as the World Cup or Champions League Final have to be decided by – a) an offside goal, b) a dive to win a penalty – which is converted or c) a repeat of the Thierry Henry debacle before people sit up and take notice?

A very interesting point which was raised on 606 last Sunday evening in regards to refereeing was that – we have foreign players playing in our leagues, therefore why not have the same with referees?

Gabriele Marcotti said that rather than having a closed system for referees, the Premier League or the Football League chose to bring in the best referees regardless of nationality. It would take the Premier League putting pressure on the Referees Association and Mike Riley - but there is scope for it.

We all want what is best for the game and that is that games are officiated at the highest level and that all the laws of the game are enforced. There are far too many arguments for and against video technology and that is whole different ball game and is something I will be discussing in the near future.

For now – a complete overhaul in refereeing in the Premier League and Football League needs to be undertaken.


Lionel Messi – the best in the world?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

It really is hard to come up with an original piece on Lionel Messi these days because game after game, kick after kick and goal after goal he is fast becoming the greatest player in the world, and certainly the greatest player of my generation.

Sid Lowe wrote in his Guardian column about Messi a couple of weeks ago, after his sensational hat-trick against Zaragoza – saying:

"He was unbebloodylievable. The milk. The consecrated bread. The dog's dingly-danglies."

Forget about the Special One off the pitch – Jose Mourinho. Lionel Messi is the Special One on it. He lets his feet do the talking, and boy, oh; boy that’s what they did last night. I like many other journalists, fans and bloggers alike have run out of adjectives to describe the Argentine striker.

Amazing, fantastic, sensational, out of this world and unstoppable are the words that are going to be trotted out by the usual media hyperbole surrounding his performance last night. And rightly so, however, he was all that and more.

There may have been suggestions that Messi underperformed at the Emirates last Wednesday night but he was far from invisible last night.

Messi didn’t just score one goal, he didn’t even score two, or three – he scored four.

It was Nicklas Bendtner who gave Arsenal the lead after 18minutes, but after that Messi took over the Camp Nou. First taking advantage of a misplaced ball by Mikael Silvestre to equalize in the 21st minute, he then put the defending champions ahead in the 37th by rounding off a smart build-up play with a shot into the top of goal.

Messi capped off the half with a hat trick, his fourth of 2010 - in the 42nd minute when he scooped the ball over goalkeeper Manuel Almunia - his 27th goal in only 24 appearances.

He wasn’t finished there, albeit he had a couple of chances throughout the second half none managed to find the back of the net until the 88th minute - rounding off a spectacular night by sending the ball through Almunia’s legs to make in 4-1 on the night and 6-3 on aggregate to set up a semi final tie with Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan who beat CSKA Moscow 1-0 on the night and 2-0 on aggregate.

There is little doubt that right now Messi is the best in the world. That question of who is the best player in world seem to be popping up more and more recently and have gone from Ronaldo to Rooney to Messi.

Once again, last night, Messi put on a show, an exhibition of his talent for the entire world to see. What amazes me and is something a lot of people forget, this guy is just 22 years old.

Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola recently spoke about Messi saying – “This boy is from a different galaxy. He is from a different world.”

Messi is a once a lifetime player and for those lucky enough to see Maradona in his pomp where he single handedly won Argentina the World Cup in 1986 and went very close in 1990 it must be very special to watch Messi today.

Just to get some perspective I posed the question on twitter last night - What does Messi have to do to become the best player of all-time? Does he need to win the WC?

Here is a sample of what I got back:

@DKDickson - It's the Diego/Napoli thing. But it can't happen in this day and age. But if he leads a team from nothing to glory, he is. Maybe leading Argentina to a World Cup IS leading a team from nothing to glory, since Diego is a shambles. - (Check his blog on Messi)

@CFC8Scott – I’m afraid he will NEVER win the World Cup with Argentina. But I agree with everything else about him.

@nikegoal – Messi was the greatest last year and he will continute to be the best for a long time, he is still getting better

@realmadridtalk – He is the best player right now, but I still think Ronaldo is more complete.

@JimKnight88 – Echoing Lukey Moore’s comment that a player like Messi only comes along once in a lifetime. I’m glad he’s the player of our generation.

There you have it, universal praise for Messi. Another big test awaits for Barcelona this weekend – El Clasico – where ultimately the title will be decided. It is conceivable that we could see yet another footballing masterclass from Messi twice in one week?

Confidence will be high in the Catalan camp ahead of the game and you certainly wouldn’t bet your house on Real Madrid winning it, not by a long shot, despite the game being on their home turf - Barca will go into the game favourites knowing that if they win this then La Liga will be theirs for the taking for the second consecutive season.

Can they do it? With Messi – anything is possible.


Martin O'Neill - Will he stay or will he go?

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Seeing Martin O’Neill’s post-match interview on Saturday after his side beat Bolton 1-0 it was blatantly obvious that he was still hurting from last weekend’s trashing against Chelsea. And with doubts about his future as Aston Villa manager being raised it hasn’t been a great week for the Irishman. So, will he stay or will he go?

After back to back sixth place finishes Villa were expected to build on that success this term and challenge for fourth place grabbing a spot in next seasons Champions League, which would be viewed by most as yet another step in the right direction.

However, once again Villa look to have run out of steam just as they near the finish line. For me, the buck has to lie with one man, the manager of course. He expects his team to challenge, yet uses the same key players time and time again, game after game without rotation.

That said it is always good to have stability in a team also, while being able to maintain a level of consistency at the same time, a couple of tweaks here and there and then Villa away in a hack.

Much speculation has been made about O’Neill’s future with some sources saying that he had walked out of the club on Tuesday after a row with owner Randy Lerner, coupled with odds on his departure tumbling from 66/1 to 7/1.

In the run-up to the Bolton game he has said that he will, as he has done in previous seasons sit down will Lerner to discuss next season. Since joining the club four years ago O’Neill has been operating on a “one year rolling contract”. If I was a Villa fan I wouldn’t be exactly filled with confidence by this. Why?

Because he has not nailed his colours to the mast and could effectively walk out of the hotseat at the end of any season. And with the manager’s job vacant at former club Celtic it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he could go back to the side where he achieved huge success.

I’m not taking away from what O’Neill has achieved at Villa – he has led them to the Carling Cup final albeit unfortunately losing out to Manchester United.

Reaching Wembley twice in one season is no mean feat either for the Midlands side, and next Sunday they come up against Chelsea in the FA Cup Semi-Finals.

If you were to ask Villa fans right now which they would rather, winning the FA Cup or finishing fourth many would say the former.

After investing £88million in players, Aston Villa has spent more money than any other Premier League team, obviously with the exception of moneybags Manchester City.

Therefore, another sixth place finish would not be considered as a success from my point of view. Yes, the Premier League is more competitive this season, but Villa have had their chance to grab 4th twice now. But, what better way to make up for that by winning silverware.

Don’t get me wrong I am a big fan of Martin O’Neill and really like Aston Villa as a club and they way the line-up so I would not like to see him leave the club, nor would I ever like to see them crash and burn at the final hurdle.

Coming back to the question will he stay or will he go? Honestly, I think he will stay; he hasn’t lost the fans and hasn’t lost the dressing room therefore there is no reason for him to leave unless he feels he isn’t up to the job anymore and we all know that is not true.

Extra reading: Is Martin O'Neill all he is cracked up to be? - Gabriele Marcotti


Fulham: The incredible journey continues

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Fulham have been on an incredible journey. 15 years ago they were struggling at the bottom tier of English football. Even go back to just two years ago and they were battling relegation from the Premier League, now they are potential Europa League contenders this season mingling with some of Europe’s finest.

A little over three weeks ago the Cottagers pull off their biggest and most famous win of their 131 year history when they beat Juventus 4-1 at Craven Cottage. It was an amazing comeback from Fulham, who had many people in awe considering they went into the game trailing 3-1 from the first leg in Turin.

Many may have thought it was all over after the first minute after David Trezeguet scored for the away side, but it went downhill for the Italian side from there. Fulham made the impossible possible, scoring four goals and pulling off a famous European victory. One being a stunner from Clint Dempsey.

Their reward is a quarter-final tie with reigning German champions Wolfsburg who they take on tonight in London, the winner of the tie over the two legs will play the winner of Hamburg and Standard Liege in the semi-final. So, it is not beyond the realms of possibility for Fulham to reach the final.

A much underrated manager on these shores – Roy Hodgson is the man who has been pulling the strings at Fulham since taking over from Lawrie Sanchez a little over two years ago. He has travelled the world managing teams such as Inter Milan, Udinese, Switzerland, Finland and United Arab Emirates he has picked up many tricks of the trade along the way.

The 62 year old has even been linked as a possible successor to national team coach Fabio Capello, certainly not something people would have said two years ago, because they either would not have heard of him let alone rated him.

Personally, because of what he has achieved this season with Fulham in Europe and in the Premier League that Hodgson warrants manager of the year. Getting results against sides such as Juventus (4-1), Manchester United (3-0) and Liverpool (3-1) is no mean feat while also reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Every successful manager gets the best he can out of his players and that is exactly what Hodgson has been doing – Mark Schwarzer, Brede Hangerland, Bobby Zamora, Chris Smalling(who Hodgson will take credit for finding), Damien Duff et al. All have prospered at Fulham since joining.

It looks likely Fulham won’t qualify for Europe next season, which is another reason for them to put on a fine showing tonight and in the away leg.

Can they win the Europa League? Under Roy Hodgson anything is possible.


Touchline Views

This is a football blog by Ian Walsh, covering all aspects of the game - from the Premier League and La Liga to the slightly mental football stories we all love.

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