Last year I wrote about the potential of Southampton’s youthful team, and their ambitions for the Premier League. After Nigel Adkins was sacked, I also described the canniness of the Chairman, Nicola Cortese.
Now, at the start of the 2013 season, Southampton FC are ready to explode into the Premier League.
And what a contrast – seven year’s ago, Southampton under the charge of Chairman Rupert Lowe, were plundering towards Premier League relegation for the first time in 20 years. Lowe then masterfully led them to League One and into administration, while selling off some of their popular young stars – Walcott and Bale – along the way. Southampton woke up in 2009 in League One with -10 points. Dark days for the club.
But from the depths of despair came a new Saint – Markus Liebherr, a Swiss millionaire, whose wealth manager, Nicola Cortese, found him Southampton FC. Marcus agreed the purchase only if Cortese took charge as chairman. Liebherr sadly passed away a year later, but with his daughter’s continued financial backing, two years later in 2012, Southampton charged back to the Premier League.
Now a year on, Southampton have had a week that sends a warning shot to the rest of the league.
Wednesday 14 August, on a train ride from London to Southampton
You could sense the excitement in the air (twitter air that is, not on the train – Southampton folk aren’t the most flamboyant).
Rickie Lambert, who epitomises everything that’s great about the squad – under-estimated skill, humility, hard work, had just been called up for the England squad for the first time, to play Scotland. That evening, subbed on for Wayne Rooney, with 30 minutes remaining and both teams level, he scored a powerhouse header to win the game for England. First call up, first cap, first touch of the ball.
Rickie’s story says a lot about Southampton. He credits the club for changing his mentality from an over reliance on natural ability, but without care for fitness, to the serious athlete he is now. Even in League One, Southampton were raising ambitions.
Something about Rickie scoring on his England debut inspired the nation. The Olympic spirit never seemed to translate to football – Wayne Rooney or Frank Lambert’s cagey drones don’t capture the same excitement as Mo Farah or Jess Ennis. But Lambert, bursting with enthusiasm at a post match interview: “I was trying to act cool all week, but inside I wanted to scream” brought the goosebumps back. Now the English know how it feels to be a Saints fan.
Thursday 15 August, reading the press stories about Southampton transfer activity.
Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, Italian international, was as you would expect, rejecting a move to Saints. Spurs were ready to pounce. Saints vs Spurs. vs London. Kaos vs Mahiki. 14th finishers vs Europa league qualifiers. No contest.
Saturday 16 August, first day of the Premier League 2013-14.
Southampton v West Brom. 3 debuts.
Cortese spent the summer filling in the gaps in the squad, not by looking for bargains in the leagues of journey men, or fading Premier League stars. When Don Cortese says he wants to play in Europe he means it. The hard negotiator snapped up two of the young Champions League stars from 2012 – Victor Wanyama, midfield powerhouse, who scored for Celtic against Barcelona last season. And Dejan Lovren, Lyon central defender who impressed so many against Tottenham last year.
The final debut was for Calum Chambers, 18, right back, product of Southampton’s famous youth academy. He wasn’t the only 18 year old on the pitch – with midfielder James Ward-Prowse, and left back Luke Shaw having established themselves last year. One of The Don’s ambitions for Southampton is to emulate Barcelona’s youth success with 50% of the first team taken from the academy. With four academy players in the starting line up (the fourth being 25 year old Adam Lallana) that isn’t looking too far off.
Not long ago, our youth were enticed by the bright lights of Arsenal or Tottenham, now they want to stay. Not long ago, we were bullied by the big boys for our talent – if Bale’s ￡100 million transfer goes ahead we will receive no benefit as Lowe sold the sell on clause to Tottenham. Now The Don out-wits them. Arsene Wenger only brings Oxlade-Chamberlain on 72 minutes or more into the game as The Don has a clause in his contract for a ￡10k payment every 20 minutes he plays (although as Wenger didn’t factor injury time into his calculations, we’re still demanding the cash).
The West Brom game ended with hero Lambert finishing off his amazing week with a penalty to win the game. Lovren, Wanyama, and Chambers all dominated on their debuts.
Sunday 18 August – train back to London, following breaking news updates
The media, reporting on the unliklihood of Osvaldo joining Saints, didn’t factor in the tenaciousness of The Don, or Southampton manager, former Argentinean international, Mauricio Pochettino.
Pochettino joined the club in January 2013, bringing a new explosive style. Inspired by Argentinean coach Marcelo Bielsa, he became a disciple of the high pressing, aggressive attacking style at his previous club Espanyol. He also brought with him a level of international respect that Adkins could never compete with.
Osvaldo once a player at Espanyol and managed by Pochettino, was quoted at the time: “He makes you work like a dog. Sometimes you feel like killing him, but it works.”
And here the dots start joining, and Osvaldo after numerous calls with his former boss, signed up for the lowly Saints ahead of Europe-fighting Spurs. Southampton fans were euphoric (although they hid it well on the train) – a rock and roll football star; a long way from the days of Jonathon Forte.
Watching Chelsea tear apart Hull, its clear there’s still some way to go to turn Southampton FC into a ruthless winning machine. But the promise and money is there, the set up is strong, team spirit is thriving, and that makes for a pretty exhilarating ride for Southampton supporters. 2009 seems a distant memory.
Written by: Louise Kyme
The BBC’s flagship football programme has, in recent years, attracted a steady drip of criticism: too cosy, too cliquey, too complacent. A haven of hackneyed cliché, lazy punditry, and bar room banality.
These rumblings of dissent suddenly registered much higher on the Richter scale last season with the biggest earthquake in punditry since Andy Townsend’s tactics truck last parked at the back of a stadium: the arrival of Gary Neville as a Sky Sports pundit.
His impact, in the cosseted sofas of football guff was like the colossal Chiccxulub asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs. In one short season he laid waste to the ‘say what you see’ school of punditry, all through the revolutionary concept of providing actual analysis.
Against this backdrop, shell-shocked Match Of The Day producers have responded with what they no doubt consider heretical radicalism, but what to the rest of us looks like fiddling around at the edges.
Mark Lawrenson, whose sour, world weary jibes made him sound like a embittered spinster, has had his role on the programme “reduced“. A decision, that with delicious irony, he has taken in typical lemon-sucking, ill-temper.
In has come Danny Murphy another in the long line of ex-Liverpool players who enjoy a handsome, superannuated retirement on the programme. In place of Lawro’s dour drollery, Murphy gave us a furious, knitted brow concentration, like a commuter trying to focus on a Sudoku whilst failing to hide their irritation at the sound of the latest Rhianna album leaking from the headphones of the passenger next to him.
Unaccountably, Alan Shearer has been retained. Throughout his time on the programme he has specialised in a peculiar form of emphatic blandness, which is perhaps to be expected from a man who celebrated winning the Premier League by creosoting his fence.
Shearer was in doggedly flavourless form, sharing with us the wisdom accumulated through 313 career goals, that strikers need to have a desire to “get in the box”, illustrating the point with a series of clips of Danny Welbeck running in a straight line towards this footballing Shangri-La.
Murphy chipped in to attribute this new, snorting, ‘British Bulldog’ aspect to Welbeck’s game to Roy Hodgson. The England manager, Murphy informed us, does a lot of drills aimed at getting strikers into the box – raising the interesting question as to where, left to their own devices, untutored forwards would choose to run.
The other innovations saw Gary Lineker interviewing the new Everton manager Roberto Martinez via satellite link. A gimmick which offered almost as little as the twitter poll of controversial incidents and the inclusion of the back page headlines at the end of the programme.
On the basis of their 2013/14 season debut, were I to liken MOTD to a Premier League team it would be Arsenal. Myopically unaware of their own failings, and with no significant signings, the gradual decline looks set to continue. And like Arsene Wenger you have to wonder how much longer it’ll be before new management is brought in.
Written by James Albion
Hello One Foot In The Game readers, we’ve been wearing our clothes for awhile. So with the MOST EXCITING PREMIER LEAGUE SEASON EVER (SkySports trademark) we thought it best to give ourselves a spruce up.
First of all, you’ll notice our new font and blog design, we think it’s much more in keeping than what we were looking like before.
This season we’ll have a crack team of writers for hire giving a slightly different view on football from as many divisions as we can. We’ve got Ex-Everton, Preston and Spurs employee Roberto Kusabbi, Sheffield United fan and co-Editor Joseph Clift and lots more writers from the unknown to the secretive.
So bookmark us, follow us and make sure you get involved in the comments. The season just got real.
Pre-season comes to a welcome end this evening as the first Football League fixture opens up another 10 months of glorious action. And what a season it looks like on the face of it. The top of the Premiership hasn’t looked this unpredictable in years, which is mirrored in each of three divisions below.
Ever keen to stick our collective neck on the line, we’re hoping to accurately predict some of the stories for the season ahead. Last year we successfully predicted Andy Thorn to be the first boss to lose his job – while one of our bloggers bizarrely suggested it was going to be an awful year for Swansea….
1. The Champions question: who will win the Premiership, Championship, League 1 and League 2
@rktweets: Chelsea. Jose comes back with a more mellowed demeanor (for now) and brings the title back. City a close second if not pushing for top spot. So really I’m saying Chelsea or City. Or Spurs (not Spurs).
I like the look of Brighton and intrigued what their tikka takka manager will bring. But Wigan for the title… QPR may be down to the bare bones but they could challenge too
James Albion: Chelsea, Watford, Peterborough, Scunthorpe
@josephclift: Chelsea, Watford, Peterborough, Portsmouth
Dan Northcote-Smith (@dnsandnick): Man City, Wigan, Sheffield United, Fleetwood
Nick Moss (@dnsandnick): Chelsea, QPR, Peterborough (have to I’m afraid, place of birth), Fleetwood (heart over head this one but love the story)
2. The Ron Atkinson question: who will be the first manager to be sacked in the top four divisions?
@rktweets: Paul Ince (Blackpool)
James Albion: Harry Redknapp (QPR). Relegation rarely stops the rot and I’m not sure Harry’s got the energy to turn the club round. With Steve McClaren recently joining the QPR coaching team, Redknapp may find his successor has already been recruited.
@josephclift: Nigel Pearson (Leicester City). Pearson’s been on a steady decline since January and simply hasn’t delivered despite being backed with funding. Their lack of activity in the transfer market this summer does not bode well.
Dan Northcote-Smith (@dnsandnick): Gary Bowyer (Blackburn Rovers)
Nick Moss (@dnsandnick): Not sure why but I think that Paul Ince is a bit lively in the boardroom and could well walk/be pushed. Avoiding the customary Blackburn manager answer.
3. The Guy Whittingham question: who will be the top scorer out of the top four divisions?
@rktweets: The boy Rhodes, or if he stays Doyle at Wolves.
James Albion: I expect Matt Tubbs to return to prolific form now he’s been reunited with former manager Steve Evans at Rotherham.
@josephclift: Fresh from his cracking season at Easter Road, I can see Leigh Griffiths setting League 1 alight at Wolves.
Dan Northcote-Smith (@dnsandnick): Charlie Austin
Nick Moss (@dnsandnick): I’ll plump for Jordan Rhodes again. Honourable mention for big Grant Holt. Failing that, a sensational season for Gary Hooper would be a joy to see… Honest.
4. The Marco Boogers question: which new signing will completely flop?
@rktweets: Arsenal’s Higuain. Oh wait. Despite every media (especially goal) pretty much announcing he signed, he never did. Really, Vito Mannone at Sunderland, Helanius at Villa and maybe Van Wolfswinkle.
James Albion: Dave Kitson. Looked ready for the glue factory when I saw him for Sheffield United last season. Has continued his descent down the leagues by signing for League 2’s Oxford. I don’t expect many goals.
@josephclift: Charlie Austin. Had a quite brilliant season at Burnley, with no expectations, before picking up a bad injury. He failed a medical as a result that ended hopes of a move to Hull. He’s now expected to deliver what Hooper would have done at QPR, where they are expected to be promoted – I can’t see him reproducing the form he had at Turf Moor.
Dan Northcote-Smith (@dnsandnick): Danny Graham – could be another goalless season.
Nick Moss (@dnsandnick): I’m gonna bend the rules here and say that Arsenal’s signing of Absolutely No-one may not turn out to be the hard hitting presence on the field they hoped for.
5. The Titanic question: which club is going to have a nightmarish disaster of a season?
@rktweets: I don’t like the shape of Sheffield United. Wonder how Stoke will do and Norwich rode their luck at the end. I don’t see a QPR of slides though this season. Pompey are supposed to win the league…not sure about that.
James Albion: Assuming they even start the season, Coventry look doomed to another awful season courtesy of their ongoing off-field problems.
@josephclift: It’s already happening at Coventry sadly, but I reckon the wheels will ultimately come off the Di Canio roller-coaster at Sunderland.
Dan Northcote-Smith (@dnsandnick): Coventry – they are already.
Nick Moss (@dnsandnick): It’s just looking worse and worse for Coventry.
Big Ron once quipped that if the Titanic was painted Sky Blue it would never have gone down. Like many of the big man’s insights this proved wide of the mark, and in 2001, after 34 years in the top flight the Sky Blues were relegated to the old Division One.
And if relegation was impossible for Big Ron to imagine, then I’d love to know what line he would have come up with if you’d told him the Sky Blues would be plying their trade in Northampton just 12 years later.
That though is the reality. Two days ago the club announced that for the next 3 seasons, Coventry City Football Club would be playing their home games, 34 miles away at Northampton Town’s 7,600 capacity Sixfields Stadium. During which time the club intend to build a new stadium within the city limits, leaving their previous home the Ricoh Arena.
Fair enough you might think. Except there is no evidence that a planning application for a new stadium has been submitted, never mind permission being obtained. How on earth did a club, once a mainstay of top flight football, end up here?
The history as to how and why is long and complicated. In 2007, Coventry narrowly avoided administration when hedge fund managers SISU took over the club with twenty minutes to spare before the deadline.
At the time, the acquisition was widely welcomed; there were promises of squad investment, clearing of debt, a “3 year back to Premiership” plan and eventually a move to acquire a share in the part-council and part-Higgs charity owned Ricoh Arena.
As promised with the acquisition, the initial investment was forthcoming with quality young players such as Keiren Westwood, Aron Gunnarsson, Scott Dann and Danny Fox being brought in. However, within a few seasons the cracks began to appear. Managers came and went, the team refused to gel or offer any consistency, attendances fell and the downward spiral commenced.
The sale of these newly acquired players soon began, along with a worrying fire sale of youth players who had been bought through the academy – generally for below the going rate or for “undisclosed fees”.
This short term and short sighted profiteering, coupled with criminal mismanagement of contract negotiations (effectively letting the most valuable and bankable assets leave on a free transfer at the end of their contracts) reduced the overall playing ability of the squad.
Holed below the waterline, there was only so long Coventry could remain afloat in the Championship, and in 2012 the inevitable relegation to League 1 happened. Unfortunately the worst wasn’t over.
The situation plunged to new depths in December 2012 when SISU became embroiled in a high-profile dispute with Ricoh Arena operators, ACL, over the rent arrangement and unpaid rent (backdating over a year). SISU were demanding £200k as annual rent for the Ricoh and not the current £1.2 million being paid, strangely this is despite having been paying the rent rates for the last 5 years.
SISU claims it is paying the highest rent for a football stadium outside the Premiership. A winding up order was enforced through the High Court, with SISU eventually putting the club into voluntary administration 24 hours before a mandatory order would have been enforced.
During the weeks which followed various front men and consortiums came forward with potential offers and it was announced that there were 4 “serious” bidders. Giving hope to the Sky Blue faithful that the club might change hands and we would see the back of SISU.
The SISU appointed administrator eventually put the club up for sale with three parties making a bid (Preston Haskell, ACL and SISU).
The eventual “winning” bid was accepted from the previously unheard of Otium Entertainment Group Limited, a company based in Mayfair and whose directors include the current and permanently dressed down, Chief Executive Tim Fisher.
Fisher, was duly despatched on a PR tour to address fans forums, but he offered little more than excuses and convoluted answers and quickly found himself as the new whipping boy.
Otium’s other directors include ex-Sky Blue directors Onye Igwe, Leonard Brody and Ken Dulieu. Dulieu was previously CCFC’s “Head of Football Operations” under SISU, who resigned from the club following a “gross error of judgement”. (Following the cringe worthy decision to sit in on manager Andy Thorn’s team talk and then take a seat on the bench during the home defeat to Hull City in 2011).
Ironically, “Otium” being an abstract Latin word, which has a variety of meanings – some might say, given the rogues gallery of director’s quite apt.
Since the takeover the club Otium/SISU pushed on with plans to move away from the Ricoh, exploring options such as Walsall’s Bescot Stadium and former Rushden & Diamonds stadium Nene Park. This has led to outrage amongst the Sky Blue faithful, whom in the last month have had to stomach the resale of the club to Otium and now witness the club being rehoused outside of the city.
During the last week, protests have taken place at SISU’s Mayfair headquarters, at the Ricoh Arena and as of last night the Sixfields Stadium. There is also a Sky Blue Trust run petition with over 11,200 online signatures and a fans’ campaign “Not One Penny More” (to Sky Blues owners SISU).
The Football League as always have been typically quiet on this and have left many supporters amazed as to how a company formed in 2011, which have yet to file accounts and contain prominent directors who have worked under SISU, have passed the Football League’s “fit-and-proper-person test”.
The supporter’s best hope is SISU/Otium bow to fan pressure and sell up (ideally to American property tycoon Preston Haskell). However, this seems very unlikely with the drama likely to rumble into the new season and beyond.
Whether the Sky Blues continue with the move to Northampton, perform a “U” turn and stay in Coventry, acquire new owners or we witness the formation of an “AFC” or “United” remains to be seen – however, for most of the Sky Blue army that sinking feeling remains.
Written by Stew Lauder
In the follow-up to our piece on players that had decent starts to their managerial careers, here are five who encountered real difficulty in their first year in management.
David Platt – Nottingham Forest (1999/2000 season)
Throughout his career, you couldn’t help but look at David Platt and think he’d be the perfect candidate to move into management. After a potential managerial career was scuppered due to his lack of coaching qualifications (though in retrospect, perhaps a convenient excuse), Platt was installed at the City Ground to lift a Forest team just relegated from the Premier League.
A dreadful season saw them labour to a mid-table finish. This was despite being backed financially – Platt was somehow allowed to shell out millions on the Italian Gianluca Petrachi, Salvadore Matrecano and Moreno Mannini based on his extensive knowledge of the Italian leagues. This knowledge turned out to be as solid as his coaching qualifications as all three flopped. He left a legacy of a Forest club that had badly overspent, and was also unable to affect his team on the pitch in the games he played. His frustration spilled into the handful of his appearances on the pitch, seeing red in one match for a horribly late challenge on Sheffield United’s Paul Devlin. A similarly average following season saw him leave for the England U21s and out of club management thereafter.
Tony Cottee – Barnet (2000/01 season)
On paper, Cottee was another ideal candidate for management. A successful career in the top division, a number of medals, and the experience of working for the likes of Howard Kendall, Martin O’Neill, and Harry Redknapp. What’s more, he was prepared to earn his stripes towards the lower ends of the football league.
Unfortunately, Cottee’s one season in charge at Underhill didn’t quite go to plan. When predecessor John Still was “moved upstairs” 3 months into the season, Cottee came in with promotion a realistic aim for the club. And it really was a dream start – a thumping 7-0 win at home to Blackpool and a goal for Cottee himself on his debut. It really couldn’t get any better than this, could it?
Well, no as it turned out. The following month saw a 6-1 drubbing at Hartlepool, and as the wretched results continued, Barnet crept towards the relegation zone. A miserable 4-1 defeat at Brighton proved to be Cottee’s last game in football management, resigning with the club in 18th and 5 points ahead of the drop zone. John Still was hastily moved back downstairs, and Barnet finished bottom of the league. Meanwhile, Cottee signed for Millwall after his Underhill exit, which alonside spells at Leicester, Norwich and Barnet, meant that he played a game in each of the four divisions that season. Truly memorable stuff.
John Barnes – Celtic (1999/2000 season)
Like David Platt, another England legend coming off the back of a glittering playing career. Like Platt, he was appointed the same summer for their first proper managerial job. And ultimately, like Platt, it was a dismal failure.
After replacing evil henchman soundalike and one-time Villain Dr Josef Venglos, Barnes was to set the world in motion alongside newly-appointed Director of Football, Kenny Dalglish. It sounded like an ideal set-up – a promising manager under guidance of the wise old master, coming off a season which couldn’t have been more disappointing. Or so the Parkhead faithful thought.
Barnes was sacked in February following a result labelled the “worst result on 30 years of the club” with their shock home defeat to Inverness. The same defeat that led to the superb headline “Super Caley Go Ballisitc, Celtic Are Attrocious”. He wasn’t helped by tensions in the dressing room (Mark Viduka reportedly refused to appear for the 2nd half vs Caley) and a double leg-break to Henrik Larsson, but it was a truly miserable spell. Barnes’s solution to replace Larsson? 36-year-old Ian Wright – signed from Platt’s Forest team. Inspired.
Tony Adams – Wycombe Wanderers (2003/04 season)
In contrast to the names above, Adams hadn’t really been widely tipped as an future manager. His appointment at Wycombe Wanderers a year after retiring raised some eyebrows. One Director at Adams Park said: “Tony is not the average up-and-coming manager. There is something very different about him.”
Indeed. He just didn’t look at all comfortable in his post-match interviews, and it always looked like the weight of the job at hand was too great. As it proved to be – Adams, presided over a turbulent spell, getting rid of around 18 players and many of the backroom staff in the season. John Gorman lasted two weeks as his assistant before deciding unemployment was preferable to remaining.
In his post-match interview following a 2-1 defeat to Tranmere, he triumphantly declared: “It’s not mathematically over yet so we’ll keep going.” With that kind of determination, perhaps there was a glimmer of hope to the season? Sadly not. Bizarrely unknown to Adams, Wycombe were at that time already mathematically relegated, he’d failed to factor in the fact that two of the teams above them that had to lose their remaining games to give Wycombe a chance were facing each other in the remaining games. A team he took over at the bottom were relegated in the same position with 4 games to go.
Steve Bruce – Sheffield United (1998/99 season)
As Brucey is set to embark on yet another season in the top flight, it’s easy to forget what a damp squib his first job at Bramall Lane was. While United were in the midst of a turbulent spell off the field, Bruce was appointed with a clear aim of promotion, and inherited a squad that at the time was still littered with talent.
In addition to being left on his arse as Michael Bridges secured his first career hat-trick (a game resulting in Bruce’s retirement), Bruce’s team were never serious contenders for promotion, finishing a disappointing 8th. He will be best remembered for mis-managing a number of popular players at the club. Captain David Holdsworth was swiftly moved-on to Birmingham after an alleged bust-up in the dressing room. Worse in the long-run was Bruce’s inability to find a role in the team for the clearly-talented Traianos Dellas. For a 6’4 player that could tackle, pass and shoot, Big Tri’s repeated under-use was mystifying. It led to the frustrated Dellas heading back to Greece in the summer – before embarking on an illustrious career that saw him pick up a winners medal in the European Championships in 2004. As a pundit at those Championships, Bruce was quick to mention he’d been his manager.
Written by @josephclift
With James Beattie (Accrington Stanley) and David Weir (Sheffield United) stepping into their first managerial roles this summer following successful recent playing careers, this week we consider the best and worst starts for those fresh from their playing careers that have headed into the chaotic world of football management. First up, here’s our list of five managers had very decent starts to their careers – initially at least…
1. Kenny Dalglish (1985/86 season)
While his recent stint at Liverpool is best forgotten, Dalglish enjoyed six very successful years at Anfield during his first spell, winning three league titles and two FA Cups.
Following Bob Paisely and Joe Fagan, Dalglish was the third managerial appointment from Liverpool’s legendary ‘boot room’. With the club having won 4 European Cup titles in the past 8 years, expectation on Dalglish to deliver was sky high. He duly served up a league & FA Cup double, made all the sweeter for Reds fans as Dalglish’s men pipped deadly rivals Everton to the title before beating the Toffees in the FA Cup final.
2. Steve Coppell (1984/85 season)
After injury cut his career at Manchester United short at the age of 28, Coppell went straight into an eventful managerial career that saw success at both Palace and Reading – and a bizarrely brief spell at Maine Road where he lasted just 33 days.
Coppell arrived at Selhurst Park with a clear task of ensuring survival for a Palace team with little funds or grander expectations. A strong finish in the last two months of the season saw Palace sail clear of the relegation zone and finish a comfortable 15th. Importantly, in his first season Coppell had put down the foundations for the long-term, ensuring that unlike some on this list this was the start to a period of success rather than a lull before ignominious failure.
3. Gordon Strachan (1996/97 season)
Long tipped to go into management, the pint-sized Jock was added to the coaching staff at Highfield Road by the then manager Ron Atkinson, with an agreement that he would become boss in 1997. But with the club struggling early on in the season, Big Ron’s move upstairs was accelerated, and in November 1996 Strachan took full control as player-manager.
An excellent run of form saw Coventry soar to 11th and Strachan gain a manager of the month award, with new signing Darren Huckerby proving a deadly foil for a resurgent Dion Dublin. However, a poor run of form saw them slip back into the relegation zone going into the final day. A final day win at Spurs though, coupled with favourable results elsewhere, saw a survival secured in dramatic fashion.
4. Roy Keane (2004/05 season)
Unable to get a job in management and reduced to staring daggers at Adrian Chiles as an ITV pundit, it’s easy to forget that Roy Keane’s first season after retiring from Celtic was a managerial triumph. Recently-relegated Sunderland were struggling early on under the direction of chairman/manager/overlord Niall Quinn. After four defeats in the opening league fixtures, Quinn voluntarily relinquished his totalitarian grip by standing down as manager, to allow Keane to take over a club now propping up the league.
What followed was a remarkable turnaround. After a flurry of activity at the end of the transfer window, including signing ex-teammates Dwight Yorke, Ross Wallace, and Stanislav Varga, Keane’s team began a rapid ascent. After the New Year, they went on a superb run, winning 16 of their 20 games, losing just once, securing the title in imperious fashion by thumping Luton 5-0 on the last day of the season.
5. Eddie Howe (2008-09 season)
Has any manager had a tougher start to their career than Eddie Howe?
Relegated from League 1, a financial crisis at Bournemouth had seen the Football League almost bar their entry to League 2. Instead, the club were hit with a 17 point deduction before a ball had even been kicked.
After the sackings of first Kevin Bond and then his successor Jimmy Quinn, Bournemouth looked to be in complete disarray. The appointment of their 31-year old youth team coach seemed only further evidence that the club was fatally doomed.
Taking over at the end of the year, Bournemouth were on 7 points and still 7 away from safety. Howe re-signed club legend Steve Fletcher – then languishing in non-league – and led the team on a near miraculous run of results including wins against ultimately promoted sides such as Wycombe and Exeter. In a crucial end to the season, Bournemouth won first at fellow strugglers Chester, before securing safety at home to the similarly relegation-threatened Grimsby, with Fletcher in true fairy tale style scoring the crucial late goal.
Written by @josephclift
With every club looking for a bargain, and newly promoted sides desperate for quality, @dnsandnick give us their pick of the potential free transfers from the Premiership for this summer.
GK. Lukas Fabiankski (age 26)
Just when he’d seemed to have wrestled the gloves from Polish colleague Wojciech Szczesny at Arsenal, Lukas ‘Flapihandski’ fell victim to injury. But don’t let his previous, potentially harsh nickname put you off. With him in goal Arsenal’s defence tightened up and their form improved, as they won all 4 games. At 26, a good run of games could see him prove to be a very shrewd acquisition indeed.
CB. Antolín Alcaraz (age 30)
How Martinez missed his South American central defender this season. Managing only 8 games was undoubtedly a contributing factor in the Latics’ eventual relegation. A full Paraguayan international, he possesses a classic uncompromising nature. When he was operating in the middle of the back three he consistently earned his manager’s praise, picking up various Man-of-the-Match awards in Wigan’s two previous houdini acts.
CB. William Gallas (age 35)
Love him or loathe him (and perhaps most of London is the latter) he has shown some impressive performances over the years. Most recently as captain for Tottenham, lest we forget. His age is clearly against him and injuries have never been too far away, but just half a good season from the 84-time capped Frenchman could be the difference between survival or not. But how far down the table would he be willing to drop?
LB. Maynor Figueroa (age 30)
The second Wigan man in the team. After being linked to several bigger clubs a few years ago following some eye catching performances (including that own-half goal against Stoke in 09-10) he may be surprised to find himself without a club. Often deployed on the left of a back three this season due to injuries elsewhere, his best performances are at left-back or left-wing back and will surely find himself not just back in the Premiership but potentially at a mid-table club.
RB. Danny Simpson (age 26)
After an incredible ‘breakout’ year in 2011-12 (as they’d say in the States) it didn’t go according to plan for the one-time Man Utd youth product – as indeed it didn’t for Newcastle. Curtailed by injury and an apparent spat with his manager Alan Pardew, Simpson has found himself firmly behind the Frenchman Debuchy. Perhaps he shouldn’t have announced his intention to leave way back in December. If he can learn from this, and quell murmurings of off-field problems, he is surely worth a punt.
CM. Chris Brunt (age 28)
The somewhat under-rated Irishman is exactly what a promoted team will be looking for. Hard-work, versatility, leadership skills, good set-pices and of course a hammer of shot from time to time. At 28 he still has plenty to offer and it’s largely testament to West Brom’s progress – Mulumbu and Yacob proving formidable – that they can afford to let him go on a free.
CM. Thomas Hitzlsperger (age 31)
You could argue Der Hammer’s career never quite fulfilled its early promise, when we saw him leave for a successful Stuttgart team from Aston Villa in 2005. The fact he has only managed 24 first team appearances since 2010 is in stark comparison to his impressive international record of 56 caps (6 goals) for Germany, no less. So don’t be surprised to see him given one more chance, or indeed see one of those 30 yarders whistle in.
LM. Florent Malouda (age 32)
Ah Malouda. He has suffered the kind of fall from grace almost exclusively attributed to Chelsea. Once a world beater, now a training-dodger. Still, at least he’s had Paulo Ferreira to talk to… French player of the year two years running, Chelsea player of the year in 09-10, 80 caps for France and only 32, it would be truly remarkable for him to remain on the free transfer list. The only question is his motivation. And his wage demands…
RM. Yossi Benayoun (age 33)
Good passing, vision, and an ability to drift unmarked into the box have been a feature of Benayoun’s game for most of his career. The highlight of which being an integral part of the title-chasing Liverpool team in 2008-9, playing 43 times chipping in with 9 goals. A surprising move to Chelsea and a bewildering loan to Arsenal have derailed his career somewhat. But someone with his ability to create goals should not be underestimated, even at 33 – he was afterall never reliant on pace.
SS. Andrey Arshavin (age 32)
Who was the explosive, crafty little Russian that seemed capable of dragging Russia all the way the way to European Championships in 2008? He was the same little Russian who whilst at Zenit whetted the appetite of just about major club in Europe, including Barcelona, winning the Russian Premier League, League Cup, Super Cup, UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup and Russian Footballer of the Year. It was sad to see the same, dejected, demoralised playmaker standing on the left touchline, hiding from the ball. Can he ever rediscover his zest? Someone must surely try.
CF. Mladen Petric (age 32)
If you’re thinking Petric is a slightly surprising choice given Carlton Cole is also free, look back beyond his time at Fulham: 38 goals in 72 games for Basel; 13 in 29 for Borussia Dortmund; 38 in 98 for Hamburg tell you all you need to know about the forward. A dangerous left foot and some sharp thinking weren’t evidenced enough in the Premiership. A current Croatian international too with 13 in 45. No doubt there will be offers from Germany, but perhaps an English side should tempt him to stay here a little longer.
I’ve been waiting awhile to write about my experience at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, it was an exhausting roller coaster of a year where I tasted more live games than most people watch in a lifetime. If you don’t know me, I worked at Spurs last season as Social Media Manager, traveling to every game home and away as well as watching and covering U-21 and some U-18 games. This is one of my favourite photos from my time there (I’m on the left…).
But with the season over, I thought I’d put together a post on players that impressed me over my time there, all views are my opinion, no ‘ITK’ here, but I like to think I know something about football having a coaching badge and sport science degree also help a bit, but enough about me…
I’m not going to spend too much time on the first team players but will highlight a few observations and views. Further down the post I will highlight some of the players in the U-21, development and Under 18 teams that I was lucky enough to watch too.
So, here we go:
Well Gareth wasn’t bad was he? One of my favourite players to watch and favourite player to work with too, though Kyle Walker was also a lot of fun too. I’ve never seen a player have that kind of season in the Spurs shirt in my lifetime and time as a season ticket holder. Pace, power, perfect physique and a willingness to learn how to play a variety of positions. He can play on the right, centre and oh, yeah on the left too.
I don’t have to say much about Gareth and I doubt I can add anything original either. But my opinion is that he will very much be at Tottenham next season, whether it will be his final season as a Spurs player I don’t know it won’t be surprised to know I wasn’t part of any real decisions at the Club! I told you, no ‘ITK here’. But one thing is for sure, the Club need to invest in players of a similar quality.
Favourite moment, goal vs Swansea, the winner vs West Ham. Just incredible.
One of the smartest players at the Club in my dealings with him, he reads books! But seriously, the young Belgium has had a great first season for the Club, composed and quite a leader off the pitch too which sometimes doesn’t come across in a the microcosm of 90 minutes.
I still think he can improve, sometimes gets caught out behind and switches off sometimes. Perhaps he is a bit laid back, he’s certainly supremely confident and perhaps he thinks his ability can get him out of trouble sometimes. I actually preferred him at left back, though that may be due to our problems with the position this season. But he certainly sees himself as a centre back. That said, he’s had some fantastic games, really great on the ball too and an incredible shot on him, always takes part in shooting training. One of the most technically gifted players at the Club in my opinion. Lets hope he builds on that, becomes more of a Kompany than a Vermalen…
Best moment; assist for Gareth vs Swansea and his goal vs Swansea too,
Another intelligent guy. Incredibly humble, a real gentleman. Also happens to be an incredible player. Always has time for people and media after the game, polite and settled in very well.
He’s probably had more media attention this season when he wasn’t in the team than when he was. Which as a goalkeeper probably is a good thing, but think he deserves a bit more of the plaudits. His pace off his line allows us play a much more forward thinking game, his decision making, especially from crosses has been fantastic. Would we have drawn the two home games at the start of the season had he been in goal? Who knows, but certain he’d have come and claimed the set pieces that lead to the goals.
Think he’s made maybe 3 mistakes all season, which is certainly not a bad ratio for a goal keeper in the Premier League and will only get better and only 26.
Best moment: Too many last minutes punches from corners and free-kicks to mention
Now on to the Under 21’s, Development and U-18’s:
You may or may not have heard from him yet but at 17 years old he has a lot of potential. Has played for the Next Gen, Development and U-21 team this season, playing almost all fixtures. Looked tired at the end of the season – especially in our Next Gen exit but think the number of games caught up with him a little and should learn from it long term.
Can play at centre defence or holding midfielder, likes to play two touch football and has the vision and composure to do it too. Saw him mostly at the base of midfield but played centre back at U-21 level which I think he will develop in central midfield in future if he fills out physically. That said, he certainly is just as comfortable in defence, though not sure of his pace when on the turn. A recycler of the ball and a very mature head on his shoulders too. Probably the only player in the age bracket (<18 years old) who could make it at the Club in my opinion.
Another central midfielder, had some loan spells this season but was with the U-21 squad from December onwards. Perhaps doesn’t stand out to some fans who want the goals, free-kicks and skills on the ball, he plays a very simple game, connects play and is always available. He can sit in front of the midfield, or play in a two in midfield or even play left midfield, I didn’t see much of him last season when he was with the Next Gen, but he certainly played a much deeper position this season when I saw him from what I heard. Rarely gives away the ball and defends and presses very well.
Another who could make it at senior level, but has a big battle ahead of him.
He’s left the Club now but when I saw him at the U-21 level he was consistent and expansive going forwards mainly at right back. Always looked good going forwards and defended well, lots of pace and his positional sense was very good.
Wish him well at Swindon, a player who needs games and if he continues to improve will have a very good career in league football.
I haven’t seen too much of him in games but did see him in training. A very good young goal keeper who I have no doubt will be third choice next season. Physically big and growing as well as decent on the floor. Had a good experience at Wycombe, well thought of at the Club.
As with many young players at big Clubs and probably even harder for goal keepers, hard to know what comes next for him. Will want to play games but would probably be unlikely at Tottenham, especially next season.
Got a lot of headlines, a small and very fancy player who stands out often because he likes to get on the ball and takes free-kicks. I’m unsure if he will make it at the Club and certainly don’t prescribe to some of the hyperbole I’ve read about him from some fans (who I doubt have seen him play 90mins but seen headlines or YouTube clips) but I am sure he will develop more in the future and should have a decent career in the football league.
A player who is very smart on the ball, deceptively quick and a great passer, also a smart lad too. Unlucky with his loan spell at Lorient which saw him used more as a body than a player, which can happen when a Club gets a player without contribution.
I imagine he’ll have to move from the Club soon but a player who is very good on the ball, gets forward and picks a pass as well as chipping in with goals.
Very elegant player who you wonder if he was born abroad whether he’d have more space to be a player, if he stays in England (and he’s shown he’s mature enough to live abroad which I think is refreshing) a Club that likes to play football and keep the ball on the deck would be ideal.
Obviously did very well at QPR but he played a number of matches for the U-21’s before he left on loan. He certainly surprised me on loan, he was very comfortable at U-21 level and generally had beating of his man every match, scoring lots of goals.
His performances in the Premier League have shown he has something, lots pace and great feet, can play on either flank. Whether or not he will be happy to be a sub or if he can push for either wide position, I’m not sure, but certainly was head and shoulders above most opposition we played against at U-21 and Development level, hence his loan move.
A lot of fans calling for him to start, which I’m unsure about but certainly a bright future ahead. A very polite professional and certainly keeps the ball well. Lot to learn about position sense without the ball and the physical aspect of the game will always be something that he needs to work on. But he has a fantastic eye for a pass and always wants the ball. A big season coming next season, what fans don’t see is training – how he does in pre-season will tell whether he steps up or not in my view.
Brief mention of Nabil Bentaleb – another elegant midfielder, very Tottenham Hotspur. Can play just behind the forward or in central midfield – didn’t see much of him but when I did his technique stood out, scored a great goal against Manchester United at U-21 level earlier in the season coming on as a sub. One to watch out for, still a lot of work to be done on his game and actually getting into the game but lot of potential.
All in all a very interesting crop of players at the Club. It’s important not to get too carried away but let players develop, these are very young men who are trying to find a career, hopefully they’ll find it at Tottenham, but if not – good luck to them in their careers.
In a season of turbulent managerial changes, Tony Pulis’ divorce from Stoke City does not come as a huge surprise.
There were problems in the marriage before the season even started. And as the year has gone on, those cracks have become increasingly apparent. Now for the sake of the club, Stoke and Pulis have decided to split up.
Whilst this parting of the ways may have felt inevitable, I call it harsh.
The charge against Pulis is that fans have seen little improvement in their side despite considerable transfer expenditure. The oft quoted statistic is that Stoke are the third highest spenders in the Premiership over the last five years, with only Chelsea and Manchester City spending more.
While that statistic is true if you look at net expenditure (the difference between transfer fees paid and received), the way it is expressed makes it sound as if Stoke’s expenditure over 5 years (£88m) is in any way comparable with Chelsea’s (£326m) or Man City’s (£537m).
A better comparison for Stoke’s expenditure would be to say they’ve spent broadly the same over the last 5 years as Newcastle and West Ham. If you look at the average Stoke spend a year on transfers, it’s about £16m – the same as many other clubs in the Premier League.
If Stoke do have one failing in the transfer market it is that they do not recoup any money on their signings. They are quite some way behind their rivals with only QPR and Norwich receiving less into their coffers. But to try and suggest that Stoke should be pushing for titles and the champion league on the basis of what cash they have spent is – to put it bluntly – ridiculous.
The other criticism thrown at Pulis is the team’s style of play. Direct, reliant on set pieces, and with one of the lowest goals for tallies in the division I am not going to make any defence of the aesthetics of Stoke’s style of play.
All, I’m going to say is that since promotion in 2008, Pulis has kept Stoke in the Premiership and for most of that time in the comfortable surrounds of mid-table. No mean feat given the fate of many newly promoted teams. There’s also been a day out at Wembley and a season of European football to enjoy. If owner Peter Coates wants to watch a different style of football fair enough. But he can’t say he hasn’t been given decent results on the pitch.
If anything then, Pulis is the victim of a disease reaching near epidemic proportions amongst football club chairmen: ‘next level-itis’. It’s distinguished by symptoms of feeling that your club should somehow be higher or achieving more. Unfortunately, Stoke may find out that without Pulis their next level is the Championship.
Written by James Albion