Posts Tagged ‘Chelsea’

Why we should learn from the scoff as Sir Alex’s position is questioned

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

It was extremists of course and not something that we should give too much attention to but a tiny, tiny number of Manchester United fans believe that Sir Alex Ferguson should no longer be the manager at Old Trafford and are using the 4-1 defeat by Liverpool as proof of this.

They are not to be taken seriously of course and United will end the season with silverware that most clubs only dream of but nevertheless there is this tiny group who vocalise their point of view.

So far, so glorious democracy and freedom of speech however things become more troubling when those putting forward such curious points of view are echoed elsewhere.

Management Ferguson style is the long game and the gap between the Scot coming down from Aberdeen to becoming the legend of the dug out that he is now has been reported on elsewhere not only at Old Trafford but also in Scotland.

The accepted wisdom of the management of Sir Alex Ferguson is that time is the governing factor of success be it time to build, time to rebuild or time to augment the good into the great.

United’s European record before the treble is – in retrospect – cast as building for the glory of May 1999.

Yet throughout football managers are given the tiniest slither of the patience that Old Trafford gave Ferguson in those early years which he hardly even needs to draw on even after a home humiliation by one’s bitterest rivals. If anyone has enough in the bank to get over a 4-1 defeat it is Ferguson.

We should all scoff at those who say one defeat should force a re-evaluation of the manager at Old Trafford and perhaps we should all scoff when we hear similar at our own clubs.

After all Rafa Benitez has had his critics at Liverpool but he emerged victorious this week with eight goals against Real Madrid and The Red Devils while he rotate-a-manager at St James’ Park Newcastle sees them hover over the drop zone. Sticking with managers makes good sense in principal and in practice.

Perhaps we should all take the same policy of scoff when our managers position are questioned within a year or two or appointment. Perhaps we should act with the same incredulity as those hearing that the Knight of the Realm should no longer be at the helm at Old Trafford act.

We do not though. Up and down the land managers are sacked with a patience that would have sacked Ferguson at Pittodire or Old Trafford and it is taken as a part of the game, a thing of football, rather than an act of poor macro management by a club.

In football though we have a world where we are told we should not question what is handed down to us from the clubs we say we support but increasingly adopt an attitude of lords to our vassals.

It is in this atmosphere that with a straight face the manager of Chelsea can criticise another club for spending immorally not a year since the exit of £31m curio Andriy Shevchenko.

Football supporters should laugh at Guus Hiddink for his hypocrisy as they do at those who say that Ferguson should not be Manchester United manager and they should laugh too when they hear similar subjects to scoff at at their own clubs.

Money in football seduces all including its critics

Monday, January 26th, 2009

The transfer window remains open for a week and in that week it is expected that Manchester City will add to the parade of signing – a bloke called Nigel who they could have had for a tenth of the price and Craig Bellemy – as they prepare for next season’s assault on the Champions League places an ascension to which is already assumed in some quarters with the talk being of who from the top four – Arsenal it seems to be feared – will lose a foothold that would be taken by the men from Maine Road.

Certainly yesterday’s 1-1 draw between Liverpool and Everton is seen as something of a last rites but I would suggest that Manchester City could have limitless money and they will still not finish above either Merseyside club until they are able to put in place the kind of systems that both have behind the scenes.

There is a correlation between clubs that keep managers, the build slowly, that do the right thing and success and Liverpool’s attempts to win the league this season may end up the same as Manchester United’s attempt to win the last Football League title which was acquiesced to Leeds United but should Benitez’s side capitulate they may be – looking back with hindsight as we do on 1991/1992 – judged in the same way as the gradual improvement of Ferguson’s side. Few talk about how Old Trafford blew the League and those who do are shown to the trophy room as proof of the long game being played.

Everton – and the rise of Aston Villa as a footballing force and the decline of Chelsea under the merry-go-round system of management – show that lashing money at a team is not a path to success yet the fear amongst those who worry about money having overtaken football has it that the rise of Manchester City is assured because of this.

I’m not sure how signing Robinho and Kaka would have differ from signing Teves and Mascherano in trying to guarantee a top four finish. The two Argentines are proof that good footballers need to be in the right surroundings to make a difference and parachuting them into chaos and expecting the two alone to produce results is no solution. West Ham are nowhere as close to Everton to the hallowed ground of Champions League football, Aston Villa are a tauntingly similarly coloured speck on their horizons and while the talk is of expensive Brazilians Villa pick up Emile Heskey for £3.5m and trundle on towards their goals.

Chelsea – so often held up as the example of reckless spending – built a side slowly into a top quarter finisher under Claudio Ranieri which was taken on to become Premiership champions and many would argue that the wheels came off that wagon when Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko signed and disparity in the dressing room began. A look at the Midlander’s dressing room and the balance therein suggests that Heskey has more chance of making a fist of things at his new club than Shevchenko did at Stamford Bridge.

All of which is to further heap praise on the hair to Clough – Martin O’Neill – and suggest that if Manchester City were really keen to make a difference to the club then they would be looking not at getting the best players they could but the best manager. Someone who could turn a team of strugglers into someone who can compete with the best and from that level stake a claim for a place in the elite of English football. With 2-1 and 1-0 wins over Manchester United last season and a top half finish with a team that had finished four points off relegation the season before one might think that perhaps City had that manager in place in Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Not that this is a suggestion that money should be allowed to flow unfettered into football – controls are badly needed at all levels – but rather a statement that not only can money not buy one love but it also makes a pretty poor show of getting you a good football team when compared to finding the right man to lead your team and sticking with him as evidence on both the red and the blue halves of Manchester.

Certainly it would be harder to argue – Robinho and all – that Mark Hughes’s side is not further away from those lofty aims as they splash out more money in January than Eriksson’s was this time last year and that for missing out on the League in May 1992 someone other than Sir Alex should have been given the keys to the Old Trafford war chest.

Those things that cannot be counted as Kaka talks to Manchester City

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

There is no measure of the things that could have been. It is not possible to say the result of D from the addition of A + B = C. There are things we know in football and things we speculate on and the two should not be confused.

We know Manchester City are making a £100m bid for Kaka and we know some people question it. For Manchester City’s sake one would hope that when the cheque is signed for the player another is made out to the business to cover the costs of £500,000 a week for four years and put in a locked account. It would be an horrific legacy to be left with should Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan – who is funding the Blues – opt out.

Why would he opt out though? This accusation of short-termed-ness was made towards Roman Abramovich when he arrived at Chelsea but the Russian is still making bank transfers at the end of each month to pay for the wages that outstrip the income. In the full remit of football experience at the higher levels one struggles to think of a chairman who has exited simply because he has become bored. Even Simon Jordan – probably the most high profile exitee – has his reasons for going.

So there is little reason to believe that Sheikh Mansour will leave City at all – let alone with debts just as Abromovich remains, just as Jack Walker remained at Blackburn Rovers. The players stay at the table even when the stakes get higher – What is going on at Eastlands is a rising of the stakes in football and while we should not doubt the spending power at Stamford Bridge we could compare the London club to those at Ewood Park in being out gunned in spending now.

What we cannot compare – what we will not know – is the effect such big numbers have on the potential investors. How the cost of living in the Premiership and outside it affects the business men and other would be chairmen when they come to look at buying clubs. Mike Ashley at Newcastle United arrived admitting that the club could never compete in a cash fight with their Premiership rivals and his decision to buy the St James Park club is hardly unquestioned. How many other Ashleys who could be investing are looking at the voracious appetite for money and deciding to stay away.

How often is that happening lower down the ladder? What would be the point of buying a Championship club, a League One or Two club, when you look at the cost of doing business at the top level and decide it is more suited to countries and corporations rather than football supporters with deep pockets.

Of course none of this matters. Manchester City’s deep pockets enable them to buy unsettled Brazilians and struggle with relegation while Liverpool spend not massive amounts and top the Premiership. If you want to progress your club at every level then run it well, build permanency in management and structure and progress will be made. Manchester City are less of a threat to the Premiership title this year than they were last under Sven Goran Errikson and still the same danger as they were when they employed Joe Royle or Kevin Keegan – none.

However trickle down economics rule in football and aside from perceived problems for would be investors there is a very real issue with inflation which football has no beginning in answering. Football’s finances are so out of the control of football’s authorities it is almost impossible to see them coming back in.

Manchester City, Shrewsbury Town, Gretna. No club is ever required to prove sustainability to their spending plans and in the latter case it is the community which ends up suffering as it loses an asset.

We can count the losses with ease but have no way of tallying how many good people who could improve the game stand on the sidelines as the wheels of finance spin faster and faster.

Mickey Rourke has the real skills needed to be a Premiership manager

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Chelsea’s Luiz Felipe Scolari finds his job under threat and already eyes scan and ears prick up on the lookout for a successor to the small one who watches those in the North West play what is referred to in the press as mind games.

Scolari’s opinion on Manchester United, Liverpool and the title race is almost unimportant – as is Arsene Wengers and Martin O’Neill – as these big too trade punches in the sparring. Sparring is the sort of word that Sky would use to describe this war of words that had broken out between Anfield and Old Trafford. They would use “War of words” too.

Perhaps though the rest of the country – those without a stake in corporate football – would describe the banter between Sir Alx and Rafa Benitez as boring. There is very little of interest in what seems to be a playground style spat the start of which is lost in history and the meaning of which is a moot point.

At the start of May the title will be decided and before then the two clubs will meet and while there is some interest in dynamics between the two managers and two camps the majority of the time the impression left is of a squabble between the over privilege. The two managers come off with all the grace and charm of Prince Harry and the whole divide between the two seems paper thin if viewed from any distance. From the distance of The Valley it must seem tiny indeed.

It could be different of course. One call between the two camps and an agreement to let the best team win in good grace could be struck but doing so would deny the Red Top types endless column inches repeating the undignified squabble. Those same Red Top types could also play a part in removing this squalid part of our game by preferring to report on matches played rather than the reactions to those games but that seems unlikely to occur.

So what we are left with is this pre-fight mudslinging which would be better suited to the pantomime of Hulk Hogan and the WWF rather than top flight British football which is rendered undignified but these men and their supposed mind games. Grown men acting upset, offended, mortified with each other and vowing victory.

So when Chelsea do start looking for a new manager perhaps they should stop the pretence and try hire someone who has the proper training to do that job – Mickey Rourke maybe?

Is quality of football an issue in the age of airchair support?

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

He knew that saying it would wind me up and, to my own frustration, I let it. I was sat on his settee with another friend, watching the League Two round-up on The Championship when he happened to walk by from cooking our breakfast to see Rotherham’s Alex Rhodes mishit a cross which flew into the net, so let rip.

“God, the standard of football in the lower leagues is terrible!” He is a Manchester United fan, me Bradford City. He follows his team through the power of his Sky+ remote, I use my worn-out car to travel around the country in support of mine; he will moan to me that Darren Fletcher doesn’t always convince, I will just smile and nod, knowing talking about the merits our new right back would be of little interest to him.

His forceful assessment of lower league football was not said purely to provoke a response from me – it’s how he feels. The Premier League chose to distance itself from the rest of us 16 years ago and its followers, including the national media, would struggle to name all 72 clubs underneath them, never mind which division they occupy. A few weeks earlier I’d heard a Tottenham fan call BBC 5Live’s 606 to tell Alan Green he’d bought a season ticket at Barnet and was impressed at how little it cost. In response, Green questioned its value given the “the low standard of football” he must be watching. True, Barnet followers might struggle to argue against this ignorant assessment after a poor start to the season, but the BBC commentator would probably replied in the same manner had the caller taken out a season ticket for Crystal Palace.

So can a league’s quality be judged by the standard of its goals? It’s true that, since demotion to League Two, Bradford’s games have featured a higher number of poor ones in our matches – from us and the opposition – but the quick round-up of goals that The Championship grudgingly makes time for cannot tell the full story. As a comparison I watched the weekend’s Premier League goals and, while Man United’s opener against Chelsea featured build-up play of a standard you won’t find at Valley Parade, the defending for Chelsea’s equaliser was no less clueless than what I’d endured from my team 24 hours earlier. Sunderland beat Middlesbrough 2-0 with the second a result of an inept attempt to play offside resulted in Michael Chopra been left free to fire home. Had Hartlepool scored exactly the same goal, would people watching it later on TV be tutting at the poor standard of lower league football?

My friend’s uncomplimentary viewpoint of the Football League was not aided by the only game of it he’s attended, a Doncaster Rovers v Nottingham Forest League One fixture at Belle Vue two seasons ago that was apparently so boring away fans resorted to chanting at the ball boys; but it’s again questionable if a considered judgement can be formed from one experience. On the same day he was winding me up we could have flown in an alien from the Planet Zog and taken it to the Man City v Portsmouth game, where it would have undoubtedly been left with a great impression of the Premier League. Yet equally they could have attended the Spurs v Wigan game and concluded the whole thing’s a bore-fest.

With football on TV every day of the week there is less incentive to bother watching the Coca-Cola Leagues, but attendances remain healthy large due to loyalty but also the alternative it can offer to the soap opera of Ronaldo believing he’s a slave. If football was the same as the cinema, lower league clubs would be art house or independent offerings. Sure, the production values won’t be as glossy, there’s less chance you’ll have heard of the actors, but it can be a rewarding experience far removed from the Hollywood comforts where, increasingly, we can all predict how it’s going to end.

The argument over the qualities of lower leagues ends and the Sky+ remote is used to change the channel to Goals on Sunday. A sudden blast of profanities come hurtling out of my friend’s mouth in the direction of new West Ham manager, Gianfranco Zola, and I sit there, aghast, wondering why he has so much hatred towards one of football’s nice-guys. “Just because…” is his non-to-convincing reply, “But you’d love him if he’d have played for Man U” I argue, “Stop saying that, it’s a crap argument!”

He’s right, not about it been a crap argument, but that I kept saying it. I said it after listening to him rant in disgust about Adebayor for the way he “prances about on the pitch” and after slagging off John Terry for “dubbing himself ‘Mr Chelsea’”. And herein lies a major difference in attitudes, not necessarily between Premier League fans and the rest of us, but armchair supporters and the rest.

My friends sees football through his Sky box and finds a full of hostile theatre of hyped up rivalry, where every opposition player or supporter is a bad guy. It’s a lot harder to maintain such feelings of hatred if you’re at the games finding those rival players have similar qualities – and flaws – as your own, or that opposition supporters are capable of making intelligent and informed opinions. Sure, we go to games and chant not very complimentary things about each other, but we also chat to them in the pub before kick off. It’s not just a lower league thing either; I can recall, during our ill-fated Premier League days, experiencing the friendliness of Chelsea supporters outside Stamford Bridge, though I daren’t bring that up with my friend now in case he throws me out for conspiring with the enemy.

When I told him about the time I stood up and applauded Paul Scholes’ famous volley-from-a-corner goal in 2000 at Valley Parade he looked at me in disbelief, as though sportsmanship was as an outdated a concept as right-halfs; but there’s a difference to how he watches the opposition. He sees far more of Man United’s rivals than I do Bradford’s and he does so with only his wife and baby in the room to despair at his ridiculous tantrums when Frank belts one in from 20 yards.

Few would argue against TV as a great way to watch football; otherwise we wouldn’t bother tuning in to games where our own team isn’t playing, but the over-hyped Premier League world is creating some unhealthy distortions and neglecting some of the values of The Game.

Still at least I needn’t worry about winding up my friend in retaliation – Adebayor’s already doing it for me.

We worry about who is running our clubs when we should be worrying about how

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

It is hard to imagine a sight less dignified than the public hawking of Newcastle United by Mike Ashley as he tries to off load the Geordies attaching the sale rider that the club requires a bottomless pit of money.

Ashley contests that only wealth at the level Manchester clubs now enjoy will bring silverware and happiness to the supporters although the evidence of Spurs and neighbours Middlesbrough bringing back prizes suggests this to be a misjudgment on someone’s part. Unfortunately all football seems to buy into the idea that the richest wins all despite Chelsea’s two years of running up. It is more accurate to say that the biggest wins unless they mess it up and that biggest is at Old Trafford with Newcastle not that far behind.

Regardless the Magpies are shopped around with the idea being – and the worry that – they will be the latest club to fall into the hands of overseas investment.

Each time there is a purchase of a club by non-English investors alarm bells are sounded do the future of our game so much so one could be forgiven for thinking that we have a monopoly on good governance in football. With almost half England’s professional clubs having used bankruptcy protection in the fifteen years since the formation of the Premier League that supposition would seem to be far from the truth.

English ownership covers Risdale and Richmond just as much as it does any examples of the better run sides and the likes of Randy Learner and his slow, deliberate building of Aston Villa is as valid an argument as any for the idea that it is not who owns clubs that is problem so much as how they are owned.

Learner probably has the best manager in the business in Martin O’Neill – he got him in place before he arrived – and backs him up with sensible signings. James Milner, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young probably take home the same combined as Robinho and unless the situation in England’s second City is out of focus the club is run within the remit of having huge out goings met by the huge income of a Premier League club. Morally one might question the size of the figures but from a business point of view there seems to be equity which one simply cannot say about Manchester City or Chelsea.

Distressingly one would thank that outside the realms of the mega-rich clubs at Eastlands and Stamford Bridge the thinking would veer more towards a model of attempting to balance the books or when attempting to advance the club investing soundly but the experiences of those down the leagues suggest that in most cases this is anything but. The well run teams are accused of a lack of ambition and those who overspend seem to do so in the assumption that when the chickens come home to roost they will be long gone. Any sympathy one could have for the likes of AFC Bournemouth or Luton Town is not shared by supporters who have seen their teams lose out on promotions and progressions in cups to a team bought on the hock.

The Football Association has recognised the need for control of finances starting running the Football Conference as a tight ship but the Football League struggles to do the same unwilling to douse the flames of passion that come to the game via investors in their local club but incapable of ensuring these new investors behave in a way that even guarantees a long term future.

The popular perception of football investment is that it is done in the transfer market and by paying higher wages and one would be niave to suggest that was not a factor in the improvement of clubs. Squads are important but so are supporters and the recruitment of the next generation of fans which is failing at lower levels with the jump between the child’s rate and that for teenagers being simply too steep. A wise investor looking at trying to create something other than a season or two on the field would do well to look at subsidising or creating a way that will build the fan base for a generation or more.

Likewise facilities are a way of ensuring revenue streams for clubs and it is telling that while Gillett Jnr and Hicks continue to fund Liverpool’s squad a section of support are bitterly opposed to them on the grounds that they are not building the new stadium putting the future success of the club at risk.

On the whole football chairmen fail to understand the best way to invest in clubs because they do not grasp genuine value in clubs. They look at playing squads and imagine how much a player could be sold for but more acute book keeping would render Robinho’s £120,000 a week as a liability from which the business suffered and his resale value as windfall payment rather than a reason to value the club more highly.

The real assets of football clubs are position in the league set up and the sponsorship and television deals that bring, good will – in the support and in the brand – and facilities. The league position is temporary but the contracts it bring in are easily read, the facilities can be assessed with some ease but that middle element – good will – is harder to put a value on.

However Mike Ashley values Newcastle United as twice what he paid for them because he understands that what Freddy Shepherd sold him at the value of a mid-range debt ridden Premiership club is actually one of the league’s strongest with a permanent tradition of support and a strong brand. His hawking of the club around is undignified for sure but having bought the club on the cheap he is not so much trying to get rid of it quick as realising the value of his investment. Shepherd’s last cock up at Newcastle was to not understand the value of what he had.

Too many chairmen are the same. They have a thing of value but have no idea how to augment that value and end up spending the club’s resources on things of no value – players – and not the assets they have got – good will.

We worry so much about who owns football clubs and where those investors come from yet we do not worry at all about how those clubs are run or even if the people who own them even know what they have bought and how much it is worth.