Mid table marvels – five bosses worthy of praise

There have been several managers that deserve praise for Herculean efforts this season. Sean Dyche’s remarkable season with Burnley, Russell Slade making Leyton Orient genuine automatic contenders, and Tony Pulis turning a doomed Palace side overnight into a viable Premiership survivor to mention but a few.

But what of those that have perhaps had less attention due to their mid-table status, in itself an impressive season given their club’s situation? A season of ‘mid-table mediocrity’ when avoiding a damaging relegation battle isn’t something to be taken lightly, but often gets lost in the excitement of the action at both ends of the table. Those that have quietly had a pretty decent year, despite what expectation levels of some of their own fans may have been.

Here are five managers sitting safely who fit the bill.

1. Eddie Howe
Steady Eddie returned to Bournemouth last season with them in a complete mess. But with a rapid turnaround and remarkable run Howe steered them from relegation battlers to a surprising automatic promotion. It’s only 5 years ago that they clung on for dear life in League 2.
21st would have been a great achievement for a club that hadn’t been at that level since 1990. But with some shrewd signings like Elliott Ward and Yann Kermorgant added last summer, Bournemouth haven’t really looked like relegation fodder at any stage of the season. Which is a huge credit to Howe, who’s been rewarded with a contract extension to 2018.
2. Paul Cox
Mansfield’s promotion from the Conference ended five seasons out of the Football League. In the process, Paul Cox started appearing on the promising manager radar. Avoiding relegation was the minimum expected from Stags fans, and all began well. In October Mansfield were around the playoff zone, with Cox being linked to the then vacant jobs at Notts County and Sheffield United.

That purple patch was followed by the doom and despair of three winless months. No wins in 13 saw the Stags drop to within a point of the relegation zone – with fans’ patience at a low. But Cox has turned them back round in 2014 – last week’s impressive 4-2 win at Hartlepool highlighting their revival. Mansfield now sit in 12th, practically safe. That would have been a decent achievement at the start of the season – bearing in mind their position at the turn of the year, Cox has done really well. His promising reputation duly saved.

3. Micky Adams

A 5-0 thrashing by Bristol City last week, where Adams was subjected to abuse from some of the Vale fans – the suggestion that Adams deserves big praise might raise an eyebrow. But like Bournemouth, having gained an impressive promotion last season the key factor was to stay up – and they too have been comfortably out of what’s a highly competitive battle at the bottom of League 1.

Unlike Bournemouth, they are all over the place off the pitch. The chairman has this season banned the main local paper from the club, told a number of football agents in December that the club was temporarily unable to pay money owed to them, and has even struggled to pay policing bills for Vale Park. And last week, as Adams prepared to get an emergency goalkeeping loan in, he discovered Vale were under a transfer embargo. Sitting 11th, 11 points off the drop zone, with the resources available to him, Adams has perhaps been the only reliable thing at Vale this season.

4. Stuart Gray

Put simply, Stuart Gray shouldn’t be in the driving seat at Hillsborough. Milan Mandaric hurled him the keys after Dave Jones’s sacking last December, with a very clear intention at the time that this would be temporary. After all, while a loyal assistant in his career (mainly to Jones), his brief disappointing spell managing Southampton and his disastrous spell at Northampton didn’t give Gray a great managerial CV.

But while Neil Warnock dithered over the job, Gray began to impress in his caretaker role. With no other candidates meeting Mandaric’s standards (or with no decent candidates willing to work with Mandaric), Gray earned himself a full time contract to 2016. So far he’s brought much-needed stability and led a turnaround in form. Whereas the managerial changes at Barnsley, Blackpool, Charlton, and Millwall haven’t significantly impacted on league position, Gray has lifted the club from 23rd to currently 14th. And he’s managed not to incur the wrath of Mandaric – an achievement in itself.

5. Mark Hughes

It may raise a few eyebrows that Hughes completes this list – not least in Stoke itself where there seems to be something of a divide among some sections of the Britannia. Many were fond of Pulis, and will no doubt be looking at his transformation of Palace as further justification he shouldn’t have been moved on.

Wherever Hughes has gone he’s never seemed to gain complete support. But Stoke fans need to look at this as quite an encouraging building year for the club. Hughes has overnight steered the club in a completely different footballing direction – and often, that sort of drastic change can create resistance. It wouldn’t have been at all surprising to have seen Stoke at this stage in the midst of a relegation battle, rather than effectively safe in 10th. And for that alone, it’s success for Sparky.

Davies axed as SOS sent to Warnock

Saturday’s embarrassing 5-0 loss to local & promotion rivals Derby County led to an abrupt end, again, to Billy Davies’s time at the City Ground. The loss saw Forest fall out of the playoff zone and continues a winless run that’s now up to 8 games.

What a difference a month makes. Just over five weeks ago, Forest were 1-0 up at half time at Bramall Lane, unbeaten in 16 games, looking good for the playoffs and a potential semi final appearance given the kind FA Cup draw. That disappointing loss though shouldn’t have necessarily had repercussions in the league – and for long periods of their next league game against a strong Leicester side they were in control. But with a late equaliser for the ten men of City, the wheels appeared to fall off.

Billy Davies, likely appealing against one of the conspiracies against him (photo: Telegraph)

Hammered at home to Wigan, beaten at the impressive promotion-bound Burnley, and by dismal relegation-bound Barnsley, with draws against beatable Middlesbrough and Donny Rovers – the Derby game continues what is a terrible run at the worst possible time of the season. Owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi has today decided to act.

Some may be sympathetic to Billy Davies, the manager. Forest are, after all, sitting just two points from the playoff zone with 9 games to go – 5 of which are against teams in the lower half, with only QPR to play in the top 6. With that set of games, they have a great chance to finish in the top 6.

But most will find it tough to be sympathetic to Davies, the person. His refusal to deal with certain parts of the media certainly didn’t help matters, and the post-match interviews he’d give were often unbearable. Most recently he was handed a 5-match ban for abusive language towards the ref in the Leicester game. His abrasive personality has often annoyed fans of other clubs, but his character was tolerable provided the results were delivered.

In a surprise twist, this may be the first job that Neil Warnock is appointed to where he’s actually considered to be more likeable in the game than his predecessor. In what would appear to be the shortest of short-term appointments, “One Last Challenge” Warnock is being heavily linked as the man that will be handed the task of quickly steering Forest back on course. His record of high initial impact is decent – turning around the form of Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and QPR overnight when all three were relegation-threatened and all over the place off-the-pitch.

Coming into a promotion-chasing side though, the expectations are quite different. And his record in that situation, coming into a club in a decent with relative stability, is not quite as impressive. It’s not too dissimilar to the situation when he was appointed at Leeds. Impatient for promotion, Simon Grayson was sacked with Leeds sitting in 10th, 3 points off the playoffs. Warnock’s impact-appointment saw him move the team 4 places in the table. Sadly for him, this was downwards – finishing in 14th place, and 14 points off the playoffs.

“Ah, but he has an impressive playoff record” I hear in the distance. And by distance, I mean the distant past – 1996 to be precise. While Warnock has tasted success of promotion via the playoffs with Notts County (twice), Huddersfield Town and Plymouth Argyle, you have to go back to a time when Forest finished 9th in the Premier League – yes, it must feel like another lifetime ago.

Neil Warnock – playoff genius, but not since 1996

His greatest playoff success since then was probably Sheffield United’s pulsating 4-3 victory over, ironically, Forest in the 2002-03 playoff semi-finals. But that was followed with an abject display in the final against Wolves – a game where tactically he got it completely wrong. And at Palace, the season fell away in the semi finals. He has had impressive promotions automatically since then, with Sheffield United and QPR, but both teams he’d built up himself.

His Notts County connections may be an issue for Forest fans, but given the thick skin most will have had to develop to cope with Davies you’d expect Warnock to be tolerated until the summer at least. And for Warnock himself, in semi-retirement since leaving Leeds, it’s a completely risk-free job for him. He’ll be saying all the right things as he always does when he joins a new club – expect him to talk about his past conversations with Brian Clough, his love of the City Ground and the “great set of fans” at the club, not to mention the “great bunch of lads” he’d be managing. And with zero pressure on him to really succeed, coupled with the fixtures before him, it might be a smart “Save Our Season” appointment. But for this to work, he’ll need to lift a team already fairly high up – and if he does, it’ll be a unique moment in his managerial career.

Written by @josephclift

Technology: Time for football to upgrade

It’s astonishing to compare what is possible in the 21st century compared to how it used to be. For instance, the way we view television is remarkable.

The advent of interactive digital technology means the home viewer can select, augment and interact with what they watch in an entirely new way, and not just at home but on the move on a range of devices. It is actually possible, during a live game and whilst sitting on a bus, to turn off the sound of Andy Townsend. Slim mobile phones are now also computers, video screens, TVs, audio systems, cameras, navigation tools and much more. As technology continues to advance at a pace unimaginable even 10 years ago, the application of it in sport hasn’t quite kept up.

Some sports were quick to adopt and adapt technology that already existed, such as TV replays, and some technology is even driven by the needs of sports – take Hawkeye for example. The attitudes towards applying innovation in both technology and laws of the game varies widely though, depending on the sport. If sports were mobile phone users, you’d probably say the NFL is an early adopter owning the latest iPhone or Android version – sleek, slick and used constantly. This is partly due to the stop-start nature of the game but nonetheless, the fact that a free NFL app can provide fans with real-time stats and play-by-play analysis is pretty impressive.

More striking is that American football has been miking up the refs and providing them with video assistance since as early as 1986. You’d probably then say that sports like tennis and cricket, supposedly run by old school fuddy-duddy blazers, are also smartphone users. With Hawkeye, video replays, hotspots and so on, they’re firmly iPhone 4S users, possibly even iPhone 5 or a snazzy Samsung. Even both codes of rugby have seen some element of innovation whether it be instant replays or even simply putting players ‘on report’ in rugby league. Technology in rugby is probably the equivalent of using an early iPhone or HTC.

Then there’s football. No video replays for key decisions like offsides, penalties or red cards. Confusing rules on retrospective punishment, and no allowance for post-match reviews to punish simulation or other instances of cheating and foul play. Having just introduced goal-line technology, something that will probably get used half a dozen times a season at best, football has just upgraded to one of the early Motorola flip phones and is smugly patting itself on the back at the nice ‘clacking’ sound it makes. Worryingly, football seems to cherish its status as a laggard in the world of sports. Any debate on the subject rapidly elicits a common set of views (or misconceptions) on how technology and innovation would impact the game:

  • “It would slow the game down”
  • “It would undermine the referees on the pitch”
  • “Football’s about people, not technology”
  • “It would take away the talking points from the game”

Each of these views on closer inspection is nonsense but they remain barriers to change because there is yet to be any sensible and comprehensive debate on technology by the FA, UEFA or FIFA. Would it slow the game down? Only if you assume that every decision is subject to some form of review. With the game being so free-flowing, technology could not be employed in a blanket approach and without some amendments to the laws of the game.

A pragmatic and sensible approach would see, for instance, only certain decisions being video reviewed and only where the officials are sufficiently unsure but can let play continue – offsides, penalty decisions, tackles preventing goalscoring opportunities. Would it undermine referees? Surely what undermines referees is that every weekend, their decisions are scrutinised by pundits and journalists, and endlessly replayed in super slow-motion from numerous angles, whilst they only get the benefit of seeing it once, in real-time. Look no further than the recent furore over post-match comments by Brendan Rodgers and David Moyes, comments that came with the benefit of instant replays and slow-motion footage. Referees make mistakes, they always will because they’re human. But technology coupled with changes in the laws can minimise those mistakes.

Where referees are unsure of a big decision, rather than force them to go one way or the other, why not allow them the benefit of a video official reviewing a replay? Or where an incident happens off the ball or in the periphery of the ref’s vision, why not allow him to put the players involved on report and be dealt with in a post-match review? And lastly, if players are punished retrospectively, for say, diving, would that not drastically decrease how often it happens rather than undermine the ref? Surely even Ashley Young will rethink a dive if he’s fined or banned.

Yes, football is about people and not technology but those people are the fans and the players, both of whom generally have a vested interest in knowing that the decisions being made are correct. The same applies for the argument that technology would remove talking points. Who can honestly say they’ve gone to a game and heard someone say “Ooh, I can’t wait to see this ref today, I’m really looking forward to his performance”? The referee and assistants are not the participants. They are simply there to enforce the laws of the game – in an ideal world, they’re invisible and never make an error. Really, the only question that needs answering is this: is it reasonable to expect a referee and two assistants to spot everything that happens between twenty-two players moving at high-speed, some of whom may seek to cheat the officials? So why not give them as much help as possible. There’s plenty of other talking points on the pitch, incorrect decisions don’t need to be part of them.

Yet, astonishingly, modern football still clings to a world where portly middle-aged blokes can make decisions that mean billion-pound professional football clubs can win or lose a trophy. Much like the reaction when today’s teenagers see the early brick-sized mobile phones, in 20 years time, hopefully we’ll also be wondering how things ever worked this way.

Written by @JindyMann

The absurdity of Vincent Tan at Cardiff City

Boooooo.

The sacking of Malky Mackay by Cardiff City must have gone down as the least surprising event in football since Martin Jol got sacked from Fulham. It comes as the latest in a long line of increasingly odd and self-destructive moves by the Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan.

Cardiff City has a history of ludicrous owners and Chairmen, and long standing Cardiff supporters will be able to tell you all about the likes of Tony Clemo, Samesh Kumar, Sam Hammam and Peter Ridsdale. However Vincent Tan truly takes the biscuit in the terrible owner stakes.

Starting with the ludicrous kit and badge change, the last 18 months have brought a series of increasingly ill-thought out and bizarre actions and statements from the club that have pushed more and more fans away. The kit change itself was handled in a shambolic way, with denials of a change and assertions that the club was listening to the fans followed by a rapid change with no consultation with fans. The kit looked cheap and nasty and the badge was spruced up with what looked like a clip-art dragon. Meanwhile all the seats at the Cardiff City stadium remain blue and the whole change comes across as being completely half-arsed.

In the autumn there was the sacking of head of recruitment Ian Moody, replaced by an unknown 23 year old who has subsequently had to step down due to visa problems. The roots of this seem to be Tan’s complaints about an overspend on transfers over the summer. However the overspend reflects more poorly on Tan than it does on Mackay or Moody. The transfer deals would still need to be signed off by the club hierarchy, all appointed by Tan, so presumably somebody knew that the money was being spent and sanctioned it. The overspend also points to a potential lack of football knowledge, as the budget was exceeded through the addition of signing on and agents fees, rather than the payments made to clubs for players. Either way, for someone who is supposedly a great businessman he displayed a startling lack of financial control.

Following this things have become increasingly odd at Cardiff. Tan’s lack of football knowledge is astounding, with criticisms of goalkeeper David Marshall for not scoring and the suggestion that players should shoot more from distance as that will increase their chances of scoring. There have been reports of players asking that Tan not be allowed into the changing room at half time as his team talks have been disruptive and entirely unhelpful. Then there was the video of Tan booing either his own team or fans of the club (depending on your interpretation) after Sunderland’s late equaliser and his suggestion that the club should only sign players with an 8 in their birthday as that will bring good luck. Add in his ludicrous appearance and the entire package is completed.

The result is that Cardiff is now an even bigger laughing stock in football than it was before. Tan may well have thought he could get away from media glare and attention previously, but Cardiff’s rise to the Premier League means that criticism that was largely confined to pissed off fans on blogs and Twitter is now splashed all across the back pages of national daily papers and reaching back to his native Malaysia.

The absurdity of Tan’s actions and pronouncements as well as his monumental arrogance and ego are remarkable. Either he is an idiot or he is the greatest troll in football.

Given the unstable situation it seems unlikely that a serious manager will come forward for the job at Cardiff. Any manager worth his salt would want clear assurances about his exact role and a guarantee that Tan will keep his nose out of team affairs, however the ego of Tan likely means that bringing this up at the interview would result in not getting the job. The favourite seems to be Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, a manager who would, in different circumstances, be a fantastic appointment for Cardiff. However it seems unlikely he would want to take on such an unstable situation as his first job in British football and you can almost see Sir Alex Ferguson whispering in his ear to give this one a wide berth. Other names linked are journeyman Turkish manager Yilmaz Mural or Sven Goran Erikson, an appointment that would fit the gaudy, style over substance, profile above achievement approach that Tan seems to favour.

In all this, Malky Mackay has been seen by the fans as the heart of the club, someone who has been committed to the cause and put up with difficult circumstances for the greater good. However even he doesn’t come out of this affair smelling entirely of roses. The way that a ranting email to Malky from Vincent Tan was leaked and backfired points to someone who is naïve and unable to deal with the complexities and pressures that might arise should he ever go to a big club and be thrust into the harsh spotlight that comes with it. Or it points to someone who engineered his sacking to get a hefty pay out and jump ship before it all went bad, leaving his players and the club in the lurch.

Despite the difficult conditions he had to work under, and the fantastic job he did with Cardiff, it’s difficult to feel terribly sorry for Malky. He leaves with a payout rumoured to be around £2 million and his reputation largely intact. There are a number of jobs he could easily get and it would no surprise to see him take the West Brom job in early January, barring any contractual restrictions placed on him by Cardiff. It wouldn’t be surprising if fans held more affection for the sour-faced Dave Jones and the sterling effort he put in during a long spell with Cardiff than they did for Malky Mackay.

The team itself has shown it is capable of mixing it in the Premier League, with fantastic results at home such as the 3-2 victory over Manchester City, the 2-2 draw with Manchester United and the win against Swansea City. Given different circumstances they would be capable of staying up without too much difficulty.

However once again Cardiff are likely to shoot themselves in the foot and unless some stability and consistency is quickly brought in the club looks likely to be relegated.

Written by @giraffefarmer

Safe Standing takes another step forward

On Friday, the Football League took a progressive step in sending a consultation document to all 72 clubs seeking their views on Safe Standing. It’s a strong indication that the Football League is seriously considering whether to change it’s view on the issue to date.

For some time the Football Supporters Federation have ran a campaign calling for Safe Standing to be allowed in principle in UK football, and it’s encouraging to hear that they were actively engaged with the Football League as they prepared the consultation document sent to clubs. They point to the successful German model that uses rail seats, which can be flipped up and locked to provide standing space, behind a waist-high rail running across the back of the row in front of you. The seats can retain a specific number for ticketing purposes and then used as seats when required.

We’ve previously nailed the 1FITG colours to the mast in support of Safe Standing – it’s an issue that clubs themselves are increasingly supporting too. For those yet to express an opinion, it’s time to jump off the fence – ideally, liaising with their own fans in helping to make that decision. Polling suggests that 90% of supporters back the choice to sit or stand. 

Rail seating – the main model for Safe Standing

The Football League consultation focuses on four key questions for clubs:

• Should the Football League approach the Minister for Sport to request that the ‘all-seater’ stadia requirement for Championship clubs be reviewed with a view to the re-introduction of standing accommodation?
• Should the Football League approach the Sports Grounds Safety Authority to request that rail seating products be licensed in Football League grounds?
• Should clubs be permitted to accommodate supporters in rail seating in the Championship?
• Should clubs be permitted to revert from seating to standing accommodation in League One and League Two following relegation from the Championship?

This isn’t just a simple question about whether clubs should introduce Safe Standing – it’s merely whether they should be given the option to do so. The issue is about increasing choice – for clubs in how they choose to redevelop their grounds, and for fans who want to enjoy standing at matches in a safe environment. We currently have a dogs dinner of a regulatory environment on this – clubs in Leagues 1 and 2 continue to retain their existing old-style terracing, yet clubs in the top two leagues are not allowed standing areas. Current League 1 clubs like Wolves, Sheffield United and Bradford attract numbers comparable to the Championship – it seems nonsensical for there to be inconsistencies on which leagues permit standing areas.

While the Football League move is encouraging, fans shouldn’t get too excited that we’ll see swift changes. Even if it is accepted that a change should be allowed, it’s unlikely we’ll see a change overnight. A couple of years ago the SPL voted unanimously to allow piloting of Safe Standing. However, at present no club has taken up the option. Finance might be one key reason (why spend money on this if you’re a club running a deficit with no ground redevelopments imminent?), but perhaps cold feet is another – no club is willing to be the ‘guinea pig’, despite existing evidence of its safety and success in Germany. Celtic remain the most likely candidates to take this forward north of the border.

But there are other clubs in the lower leagues that could potentially step up to the plate. Brentford have just received planning permission for a new stadium at Lionel Road. In addition to exploring retention of the four-pubs-for-each-corner fans have enjoyed at Griffin Park, they have previously said that they would consider inclusion of Safe Standing as part of this – their Chief Executive recently confirmed this again in November. Fellow League 1 promotion hopefuls Peterborough went one step further last year with their open appeal to be used to trial Safe Standing in the English leagues – they even paid for their mascot to fly out to Hanover to be used in an FSF video on Safe Standing:

It’s vital that the safety authorities are consulted fully as this develops too. I don’t think any serious advocates of Safe Standing would favour new builds of old-style terracing – any remaining concerns raised by the Sports Ground Safety Authority need to be addresses. Regardless of support-in-principle that some clubs have, the simple reality is that unless there is confidence that Local Authorities’ safety advisory boards will be happy to approve plans with rail seating included, clubs won’t go for it – which is why licensing by the SGSA seems like a logical solution to provide that reassurance and ensure safety.

I enjoy standing at matches – it’s makes for an enjoyable atmosphere, and during a dire 0-0 in freezing conditions can help ensure I leave the ground still able to feel my feet. But I want to stand in an environment I know is safe, and where I’m not annoying anyone around me that wants to sit. Momentum has been gradually building around Safe Standing. At a time where there are concerns up and down the country on the fan experience and affordability of matches, freeing clubs to explore this option is a welcome development.

Written by @josephclift

Where did it go wrong for Tottenham Hotspur, again?

Written by Roberto Kusabbi – @RKtweets

Another season, another manager to be found. For any Spurs fan it’s something we’ve become accustomed to.

Happier times. July 2012

Nine Managers since 2001, Tottenham fans are well versed in how this goes. Will it be different this time? I don’t know. If the rumours  that Tim Sherwood will be the interim manager (how very last year) and indeed is fancied for the full time job are true, I fear it won’t be. A season in flux awaits, only for us to be back here in 12 months time.

Where did it go wrong for Andre?

It’s hard to pinpoint how it came to this, or whether this was always going to happen. The road to hell is paved with many good intentions. Last season was our best ever return in the Premier League but we were rarely fluid. There were tactical tweaks here and there but I felt that we were building a platform for this season and the next. But with Gareth going we had to make wholesale changes in our team. It reminds me of when we bought Bentley, Bent, Modric et al and it was too much change at one time. But the Club could argue that what else could they do, force Gareth to stay or not replenish the squad? They were stuck between a rock and a hard place. But even more reason to allow time to take course and see where we were at the end of the season.

Andre was a good problem solver and a much more likable character than he seems in the press at times. You could see every day in coaching that solutions were being found last season. Lots of late goals being conceded? No problem, at the end of training the players did complex drills to stimulate their tired minds to increase concentration during the last moments of a match and it worked. Gareth being marked by two players and stifled on the wings? Move him centrally behind Adebayor (Swansea away, WBA) and let him play up front. Andre found solutions. Did he stop doing that? 

I don’t want to make excuses for him, but I am not sure that Andre ever had the real players he wanted. Missing out on Moutinho in his first window still hangs heavy. We’ll never know how that may have worked, but imagine Bale and Moutinho linking up and being bedded in slowly, like Hugo, it’s not hard to see it could have worked. Were Dempsey and Demebele his players? We know that Sigurdsson and Vertonghen were bought before he was appointed, indeed Jan was at the last game of Redknapp’s season. The last window is harder to see who was Andre’s and who were opportunistic buys. Certainly Baldini bought in players who filed a profile. I still believe in time most of them will come good, Lamela, Capoue, Soldado and Chriches especially. Indeed, Chriches has been fantastic already. The team have shown flashes of potential here and there (Everton, Newcastle (oddly), United) but it always felt as if we were missing something, a Moutinho or an Adebayor of 2 years ago.

Then the issue of his relationship with Levy. I’m unsure what anyone’s relationship with him is like, which tells a story. Chelsea apart, most successful clubs have a chairman and manager who have a mutual respect, a partnership, a relationship that works. Has any manager had that with Levy?  I don’t know. Did Andre want Baldini so badly just so he didn’t need to go through to Levy? We must be fair to Levy, he has turned Spurs around from a business and playing point of view under his chairmanship.

This season was always going to be difficult. When has a club in a top division bedded in 6 or more players for the first team in one summer and then been successful immediately? It takes a long time to build a team of the right personalities as well as the right skill sets on the pitch.  To try to integrate while other Clubs like Arsenal, City and even Liverpool have added in smaller quantities rather than the wholesale way was always going to be difficult. Football is not just about putting 11 players on a pitch and hoping they click. Some people say good players know how to play with each other, I don’t think it’s that simple.

Like with anything in life, there are many points along the road that lead us to where we are now. The sacking and indeed, from what is reported, the mutual nature of the departure seems to suggest that there was a feeling on both sides that things had come to an end. Did the PSG offer turn his head or make him think what could be in the Champions League with unlimited funds? Did the Napoli rumours pre-Benitez do the same? Did he think Gareth would stay? Did he want David Villa and Hulk and found that things were never going to change at Spurs, having experienced the same the summer before with Moutinho?

We won’t know the answers unless Andre releases a statement which I doubt he will be allowed to, certainly not for awhile, but we do know he is an ambitious man who wants to reach the very top of the game.

Do I think that it was premature? Yes. I don’t understand how Sherwood or any interim move will do better than Andre would have with the run of games ahead there was a chance to bounce back, which we did time and time against last season. Why hire a man with a point to prove and a vision in mind if you don’t give him time? Why hire him if you can’t buy his players? It seems churlish to have given up so quickly on a project. It does however feel very Tottenham Hotspur.

I certainly wish him well, I imagine we’ll see him in Italy or Spain. He is a young man who makes mistakes but he learns and I only have respect for him as a manager. I wish things had worked out differently. In Italy there is a saying that a bad season doesn’t make a bad manager. As long as you learn and develop you can still rise to the top. I believe he can. He is obsessed with football, I hope it works out for him. He learnt from his Chelsea mistakes, I’m sure he will from his Tottenham mistakes. 

563310_627964844004_860483287_nIf the rumours of Sherwood’s appointment are to be believed it certainly is an underwhelming step in my view. He has got good press for his style and job with the U-21’s but I’m unsure about how much of an indicator that is. Does he know the players? Did he ever have time with the first team? I certainly saw very little of that, Andros and Zeki apart, who played with the U-21s . It worries me. I’ve seen him mentioned as having a similar style to Pep. I cannot even begin to see how that is even remotely true.

I hope that he does well for the Club, because we still have a big opportunity to be a success this season. The Europa League and the Champions League spots are still open. But I fear the worst. I’ve seen this too many times.

One thing is for sure, we are Tottenham and this is a very Tottenham situation. We do have the incredible talent of shooting ourselves in the foot. Time. And. Time. Again.

The inevitable sacking of Dave Jones and the murky big picture

Dave Jones pondering happier times – the 2012 promotion already a distant memory (photo: The Star)

Picture the scene: it’s 6 May 2012 and over 38,000 fans pack a sold out Hillsborough stadium for a League One clash between Sheffield Wednesday and Wycombe Wanderers. The Owls beat The Chairboys 2-0 to secure a return to English football’s second tier and pip their city rivals United to automatic promotion. Wednesday boss Dave Jones is lauded for the unbeaten run he has overseen since being appointed thirteen games ago and an air of optimism fills the ground. The chants of delighted fans ring around Hillsborough in the direction of Owls owner and, saviour from almost certain administration, Milan Mandaric. The optimism continues into the summer with Mandaric fuelling talk of promotion and comparisons involving Norwich and Southampton are encouraged by chairman and manager alike.

Now just 19 months later, the picture is rather different. After a run of 1 win in 16 games, Jones has been relieved of his duties. Despite Mandaric’s reputation for having a short fuse when it comes to manager performance, he has given Dave Jones more than enough rope to hang himself and after successive defeats to Derby, Huddersfield and Blackpool, hang himself he has.

So where do Wednesday go from here? With little success to speak of since their relegation from the Premier League in the late 90s, Owls fans have suffered through boardroom uncertainty and more managers than one cares to remember. High points in the form of promotions from League One to the Championship in 2005 and 2012 respectively, have been tempered by the reality that there has been little to no consistency within the club that suggests a Championship status is anything other than precarious at best.

Mandaric saved the club, but has made it clear he’s looking to sell-up (Photo: Telegraph)

Sitting 6 points from safety and in the midst of a tough run of fixtures, the remainder of the 2013-14 campaign will prove a tough challenge for whoever is next in the Hillsborough hot seat. But can we really expect anything other than a battle against relegation this season and, if lucky enough to survive, each season beyond? Whilst Owls fans should be forever grateful to Mandaric for saving the club from almost certain extinction, the rumblings of takeover have led more than a few fans to question the Serbian businessman’s motives. The facts are that the club continues to lose money on an annual basis and, with stopgap loan moves the modus operandi at present, there seems little opportunity for the club to re-establish the dressing room spirit that helped propel Wednesday to promotion two seasons ago. The sooner a long term buyer is found for the club, the better.

Dave Jones can be considered as one in a long line of Hillsborough managers who could point to the boardroom to explain away their failings. The money has never been plentiful but has the Liverpudlian really made the most of the resources at his disposal? Jones has certainly had some successes in the transfer market – plucking ex-England international Chris Kirkland out of obscurity being one of a few highlights. But too often Jones’ wheeling and dealing has had the air of ‘Arry on Transfer Deadline Day – disorganised, short-term and with a mantra of ‘I’ll have anyone I can get my hands on.’ Out of contract players, usually in their mid-30s, train with the club before being offered pay-as-you-play short term deals – Seyi Olifinjana and Stephen McPhail are the latest examples of this policy. Such short-term deals represent two things:

  1. the club has no real funds to recruit better, and
  2. of those we can recruit, we trust them to deliver for the following thirty days and no longer.

What little money there is has been spent on players who then struggle to get a consistent run in the side – Rhys McCabe (Rangers ‘wonder-kid’) and Chris Maguire (signed for a hefty sum from Derby) – are yet to see prolonged game time (Maguire has been loaned out to Coventry this month at a time when the club are down to two fit senior strikers). All this whilst out-of-form players like Michail Antonio and Jeremy Helan have been allowed to try and play through their poor performances when going for a different option may have yielded more positive results. As Wednesday stumble into December as the only club in the football league yet to keep a clean sheet, Jones’ status was that of a condemned man.

Mandaric offered him the Pompey job in ’05 before ‘Arry made himself available

So at whose door can we lay the blame for the latest Hillsborough crisis? Whilst Mandaric continues to fund the club in the short-term, without significant investment in younger players who may actually see the hallowed Hillsborough turf, we can expect little progress to be made. Dave Jones’ mistakes outweighed his successes and on such a tight budget, that combination will never work. So whether it is Ian Holloway, Steve Evans, Stuart Pearce, or even Neil Warnock, who fills the Owls vacancy, it seems that without a resolution to the long-term future of the club the new manager will encounter the same problems the old ones have – a lack of money resulting in the need for a successful temporary solution. Perhaps as Blade and ex-Sheffield United manager Warnock throws his name in the ring as being willing to do the job for the remainder of the season, Wednesday fans may do well to swallow their pride and accept that for a club that currently needs a stop-gap solution, Warnock may just be the best option there is. The more pressing question could be when will the club stop looking for short-term solutions? The big picture looks very murky at present.

Written by Neil Piper

Shenanigans at Hull City. Whatever next?

Hull City's new owner Assem Allam celebrates the goal against Bristol CityImitation is the sincerest form of flattery seems to be Hull City chairman Assem Allam’s maxim as he strives to outdo Cardiff owner Vincent Tan in stripping their respective clubs of tradition and history. Allam has a way to go yet to beat Tan who has not only changed the nickname and colour Cardiff play in, but is rumoured to want to change the name as well. Allam has only revealed plans to change the name of the club – so far.

Seemingly confused on what the name of the club actually is, Allam has stated that it is known as Hull City Tigers and merely wants to shorten the name to Hull Tigers as his research has shown that companies with shorter names perform better on the global stock markets. It is hard to know where to begin in pulling apart Allam’s arguments but telling him that Hull’s football club name doesn’t actually include the word ‘Tigers’ (as opposed to the holding company) seems to be a good place to start. It’s certainly what a supporters group called City Til We Die have done. Allam has decided against the friendly PR road however, by refusing to be told how to run his businesses by “a few hundred people”.

The main thrust behind the name change initially seems to be that Hull Tigers sounds more impressive and catchy to the global market compared to the boring old ‘Hull City’. Forgetting about the years of tradition that football fans generally like to cling onto, Allam is also plainly delusional about Hull’s standing in the ‘global market’. Although they are now in the Premiership, giving them exposure to a world audience generally interested in only top flight football, there is obviously no guarantee that they will survive in the league. It is also a bit of a stretch to believe that fans of English football in the various corners of the globe would latch onto Hull as the team to follow. Changing the name to Tigers surely wouldn’t make any difference to that? Hull-City-badge

There are reports of Allam’s main problem being with the council and that that is actually the main reason he wants nothing to do with the word ‘City’. If this is true then it shows the man’s spitefulness transcends his lack of knowledge of the game.

Hull fans are hoping that rules concerning name changes will fall in their favour as any plans have to be ratified by the FA after consultation with supporters.  But if Cardiff are anything to go by, the FA care little for tradition and supporter reservations when it comes to multi millionaire owners intent on ripping the soul out of their new playthings. I’m afraid it doesn’t look to good for Hull City AFC.

Dan Roberts – @LasVegasWI

They’ve stolen Sky’s crown jewels, but can BT Sport be King?

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McManaman and James: BT Sport’s ‘Spice Boys’ reunion has been almost as unwelcome as the female equivalent

Today, BT Sport announced they’ve won the rights to Champions League games from 2015-18. £897m, for all 350 games – ending ITV’s long-running stint, and snatching Sky’s most recent jewel in their footballing crown.

This shit just got real.

The Football TV rights landscape has seen many pretenders come and go but Sky have always held firm.

Setanta and ESPN have come and gone. Largely in the same fashion – stretched to the limit of their finances and with a woeful lack of subscribers they crumbled. There was no real forward planning. They were nowhere near big enough to survive. Like a newly promoted Premier League team just happy to be on a higher stage, this was the sort of venture where failure was inevitable.

But then came BT Sport.

Even last year, in press rooms around the country that I was lucky enough to go to I’d hear from journalists and press officers that they would just be the same. Not all of them admittedly, but many didn’t have a clue what BT would add. They saw them as another Setanta and ESPN.

For me the facts were clear as soon as BT paid £246m per season for a package that included around half of the Premier League’s top picks.

They were serious. This wasn’t a toe in the water. They were knee deep. It wasn’t WBA vs Liverpool at 5:45. It was first picks at premium times.

When you start looking deeper you see BT are reinventing their whole business. This isn’t merely an add on. This is going to be core business. TV and Sport. With internet and phone businesses becoming increasingly ubiquitous, TV and Sport is BT’s new aim.

Their financials back it up too. Huge reserves and £18.3bn revenue vs BSkyB’s £7.2bn last year have given BT the financial clout to finally test the dominance that Sky have wielded since they first won the rights to the Premier League.

But BT still have a long way to go. Getting rid of David James and Steve McMannaman would be a start. As would adding some more slickness to their show. But for year one I think they’ve so far done a fantastic job. They didn’t even exist 6 months ago. And they have some fantastic people behind the scenes, especially in their digital and social departments – not to mention a great tie up with Opta too.

What does it hold for the future? Who knows. One thing is for sure, the Premier League rights bidding just got even more competitive. I imagine we’ll see the record broken for TV rights again. And if Sky don’t win them… Well, what do they have left?

Written by @RKTweets

Weir off as Blades wield the axe

When David Weir was appointed back in June, fans were broadly very optimistic – unusually so given disagreement on previous appointments. After a number of candidates had distanced themselves in what felt like the longest managerial search in the club’s history, it appeared like the club had come across a diamond in the rough.

Early optimism…

On paper, we had a man that was keen to make his mark in football, had worked for the likes of David Moyes and Walter Smith, and who had been preparing for several years for the right time to enter management. He had apparently narrowly lost out to Roberto Martinez for the Everton job, and was all of a sudden unveiled in a fresh-looking managerial team – alongside assistants Lee Carsley (‘technical’) and Adam Owen (‘performance’).

A flurry of early signings followed. Some reliable performers in the league (Watford’s Stephen McGinn and Walsall’s Febian Brandy), while others were gambles that seemed like they might payoff, like 24-goal Lyle Taylor from Falkirk. Few came in that were experienced – this was to be a team that was younger, fresher, more attacking.

The performance on the opening evening of the season was one of the most positive I’ve seen from a new manager in years. Attack-minded full-backs that were so absent from Danny Wilson’s side last season; a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation; pace on the break that quickly disposed of memories of Barry Robson struggling to move last year. And the chances we created were intelligently created, albeit still in need of finishing. But keep playing like that and we were looking at a cracking season.

Then Kevin McDonald was sold to Wolves – the focal point to Weir’s new style. Whether it was naivety to model a team around a player with a fairly low sell-out clause, or just plain stupidity, Weir was simply unable to recapture the level of performance thereafter. And as the chances dried up, the defence that had looked so solid last year seemed incapable of a clean sheet – bizarre given Weir & Carsley’s defensive qualities as players.

As the slide started, the fans’ expectations were at the same time raised by the emergence of Prince Abdullah as a new co-owner of the football club. Further signings were made – good signings. Jose Baxter, Florent Cuvelier, Marlon King – all players that should be more than capable at League 1. And yet, the performances, save 45 minutes at Wolves, continued to be woeful.

…broken

The loss on Tuesday to League 2 Hartlepool marked his 7th defeat in all competitions – his only wins being on the first day, and a 0-0 draw that was won on penalties in the JPT against League 2 Scunthorpe. The interview he gave was just horrible to watch – a broken man. This wasn’t what he had spent years preparing for. Fan anger turned to fan pity – but in the end the general feeling had shifted to wanting him out.

You never like to see a change of this speed. But we’ve seen managers through Bramall Lane before that have inherited a good team, been able to bring in decent players, and yet hurtle down the table at alarming pace. The diabolical Bryan Robson era lasted until February – another man that had ‘learnt from the best’, who wanted to play a more passing style, and whose reign can be summed up by the fact he had ambitions of converting Nick Montgomery into ‘an attacking midfielder’. The difference then was that the fans knew Robson was doomed to fail – Weir’s inadequacies have come as a huge shock to the system.

The club is in trouble. The players’ confidence appears shot, their attitude appears to have been one of the key factors. Weir tried to impose a style on players that were either unwilling or unable to work in his system – with Weir himself refusing to budge on his approach mid-game, between games, or in the face of evidence week-on-week that it wasn’t working. Would it have improved in time? There was very little evidence to suggest this. What was a managerial career with promise 4 months ago appears in tatters. I wanted it to work, the fans wanted it to work, all signs were that it would work. It has been a disaster.

And in what is probably the most important decision of the club in my lifetime, the owners need to avert a further one.

Written by @josephclift

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