Thursday, 11 February 2010

The English Media

John Terry, the now former England captain, was yesterday granted leave in order to tend to personal issues recently reported in the press. What a complete debacle. As Terry no doubt continues to digest the ignominy of losing his captaincy he must be left wondering where it all went so wrong. Terry committed a totally personal act and has paid the ultimate price professionally. However, as he takes time away from the game to recover, let`s assess the impact the media have played in his downfall.

John Terry is merely another unfortunate victim of the vulture-like invasion of privacy that the English media offer. Even former England captian David Beckham, popular amongst most, suffered at the hands of the press as revelations about his private life were blown out of proportion in a World Cup year. (Not to mention the tabloid hatred after France `98). Beckham survived the episode relatively unscathed, a reflection maybe on the leniency associated with coach at the time, Sven Goran Erikkson.

Erikkson himself was not shy of tabloid revelations. Our media tore into the England coach at the time over totally personal love interests and shamelessly set him up with the infamous `fake sheikh` that left his position untenable. Sven was obviously naive and at fault for such exposure. However, as the FA were forced to part company with Erikkson just weeks before the World Cup, England`s subsequent failure can definately be linked to the disarray it caused.

The ensuing McClaren era provided darkness. The media were essentially, at least in part, responsible for his appointment as they drove the campaign for an English coach. They were also the first to sack him with their headlines after a set of disappointing results. They are not idiots. They are just paid to be. And they are good at what they do.

Fabio Capello, a squeaky clean disiplinarian, cannot be got at. The shrewd Italian is business-like and evidently cut throat, as John Terry will vouch for. Unable to expose Capello, the media therefore took the option of destroying John Terry`s world (cup). Terry was stupid in what he did. But did anyone really think he was intelligent before such events? Capello did not relieve Terry of his duties due to an aversion to his personal behaviour. He simply knew the force of the media, along with the potential prolonged repercussions, and seeked to protect both his and the England team`s professional interests.

Love him or loath him, the media have played a crucial role in dislodging the best captain we have. He joins the long list of England`s best to be sniped at, including Gazza, Lineker, Rooney, Campbell and Beckham to name but a few. Terry, however, ran into the wrong man in Capello.

The press will no doubt have another pop before the tournamnet in an attempt to unsettle our challenge. Simultaneously they will build the belief that we can win, before taking great pleasure in shooting us down when we inevitably don`t. The `Golden Generation`failed. But who coined the term `Golden Generation`? I doubt it was Hoddle, Keegan or Erikkson. Or whoever was in charge when we possessed this so called generation. The tabloids did. If anyone can handle our trying media it seems to be Capello. However, I think the press can be added to the list, along with penalties, `bad luck` and a distinct lack of truly world class players, as to why England do not win World Cups.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

A tale of three debutants

    As the ref blew the final whistle in what was admittedly a rather mundane affair at Eastlands last night, it was suggested to me that despite the pedestrian nature of the match we had watched, we had witnessed what could be a pivotal moment in the next generation of English footballers. The match itself was uninspiring, and could be described most accurately as a tale of 3 debutants - the good, the bad and the distinctly promising - or Adam Johnson, Patrick Vieira and Jack Wilshere. Although Manchester City were on the whole relatively uninspiring, Johnson looked electric when he advanced down the right wing. For Bolton, Wilshere appeared as an advanced playmaker well beyond his tender years.

    Johnson’s debut showed all the promise that £10m demands. It looked like the boy we remember from the Premier League strugglers last season has benefited exponentially from his half-season in the Championship. Those with longer memories will remember his exciting performances on loan at Watford, and it seems that the second time around experience in the competitive lower league has truly ripened the young winger for future glory. His runs with the ball had a continental tinge, reminiscent of the sort of wide-man our national team has been missing for so long. His deliveries were consistently probing and on the half hour his foray into the box baffled the experienced and generally competent Paul Robinson. All in all, Johnson showed that Macini’s faith might be justified, and looks likely to be a star of the future, not only for Manchester City but with some luck, for the Three Lions.

    Vieira’s debut was an altogether more unconvincing affair. He provided the assist for Emmanuel Adebayor’s emphatic finish on the seventy-third minute, but apart from that he flattered to decieve. He was inches away from the perfect start when he narrowly missed connecting with Wayne Bridge’s tempting delivery but after that his performance was littered with stray passes and tackles as limp as a wet lettuce. Mancini will be looking for a significantly greater return from the Frenchman, reportedly on a wage well clear of £100,000 a week. The signing represented a risk from the offset, the Italian putting his faith in the 33 year old who proved a faithful stalwart at Inter, but it betrays Mancini’s naivety of the pace and aggression of the Premier League. The ex-Inter boss is smart enough to learn lessons if Vieira does prove to be below the required level, and of course there is still room for the former Gunner to prove me wrong, but if Mancini was hoping that this signing would aid the push for the coveted Champions League spot he may be disappointed.

    Finally, the on-loan Jack Wilshere, who has already shown his potential at Arsenal. The 18 year old midfielder looked calm in possession and orchestrated every attacking move that the Trotters could produce, and until City doubled their lead through Adebayor, the young Englishman looked increasingly likely to provide the spark that could have pegged back the Citizens. Generally considered to be one step behind in his development compared to other members of Wenger’s school of football such as Aaron Ramsey or Kieron Gibbs, he stepped into the Bolton side and looked considerably more comfortable on the ball than Arsene’s former prodigy Vieira. This game, although something of a damp squib for competition and excitement, was a wonderful chance to witness a significant early step in the blossoming career of two Englishmen, and perhaps the first indications of the beginning of the end for a Premier League legend.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

John Terry: England Captain?

John Terry `England Captain`. Never did like the sound of it. He portrays ignorance and instills a lack of pride- but that`s just my opinion. So when news broke on Terry`s recent personal life, alleging an affair with England and former Chelsea team mate Wayne Bridge`s girlfriend, the potential repercussions elated me. John Terry stripped of England captaincy? Isn`t that what I wanted for christmas? However, as I identified the potential replacements, I realised such events could only prove to serve in England`s detriment.

Despite off the field issues, Terry is in consistent form on the pitch. He will be the first to tell you he`s played better; however, Chelsea sit top of the premier league under his guidance as he remains injury free. Rumours continue to circulate that Mr Capello will relieve Terry of his captaincy and live up to his reputation as a staunch disiplinarian. However, lets consider the successor.

The current England vice-captain is Rio Ferdinand. Undoubtedly, when fit, one of the best defenders on the planet; an England captain he is not, especially under current circumstances. Ferdinand has struggled with fitness for the past 12 months and he must concentrate on arriving at the World Cup match fit. Often a linchpin at big tournaments, he`ll be crucial to any England success. However, recent ill discipline will leave him sidelined for 4 games, giving substance to the argument he cannot be trusted.

Steven Gerrard, vice captain during the ill-fated Steve McClaren era, is another stand out choice. For many years captain marvel at Liverpool, as he often leads with his performances. However, Gerrard is currently enduring a difficult season. Just turned 30, he has struggled with injuries all season as Liverpool`s over-reliance on him has left him fatigued and out of form. I cannot see the added pressure of captaining England to the World Cup as plausable.

Wayne Rooney, in sensatonal form at the moment, is in my mind a future England captain. Yes, he has shown himself to have a fragile temperament in the past, but I believe he now depicts a maturity far in beyond of his years. Comparisons can be made to the way Carlos Bilardo thrusted 24 year old Diego Mardona the armband in 1986. We all know what happened next. Interestingly, Maradona was sent off in his previous World Cup match for a wild lunge as Argentina exited at the second round stage in 82, as was Rooney against Portugal last time out. However, football has changed since then and this World Cup is certainly too early for Rooney. We pile enough pressure on our stars, and young Wayne must concentrate on his own fearless game going into the big matches.

I`d be very suprised if Terry is relinquished of his duties and believe, despite inward discontent, Capello will depict a calm and unfazed approach, while dealing with it in house. He cannot see the idea of changing captain 4 months before the start of the tournament as viable. Not one to make comparisons between cricket and football, but parallels can be seen between this situation and that involving Kevin Pietersen`s enforced resignation before the last Ashes series. England`s cricket team went on to win that series under Andrew Strauss`astute guidance. However, England`s best player Pietersen underperformed and hasn`t scored a century since. An unsettled Terry means an unsettled back four. He is undeniably a crucial piece of a complacated jigsaw, and we need our best players come June. So, as much as it pains me to say it, it`s John Terry `England Captain`.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Arsenal's Title Challenge - R.I.P?

Did this weekend signify the falling of another “horse” in what has become a “two-horse race”? It has been well documented that Arsenal are facing a crucial period in their season: Villa away last week, United at home last Sunday, and then Chelsea at the Bridge next weekend followed by the visit of Liverpool midweek. 1 point from the first two of these fixtures doesn’t signify a good return, and Arsenal really need 6 points from the next two games to justify their tag as title contenders. However, in a season when the top teams have dropped points at the most unexpected times, more worrying than their points count is the manner of their performances against the big teams this season.

Claims from Wenger that his side are a “different beast” from the team that limped to a 4-1 aggregate defeat in the Champions League semi-final now ring with a distinctly hollow tone. The 3-0 mauling by Chelsea at the Emirates was hard to swallow, but ultimately could be put down to a Drogba master-class. However, it seemed to me (an onlooker in alas, only 2D) that despite excellent performances from Rooney and Nani in particular (and although it pains me to say it, the effective Park Ji Sung), Arsenal’s reaction to their oppositions combination of graft and beauty lacked spine. Nani’s unexpected upturn in fortunes was impressive, but any defence that lets him trick himself through two defenders and then has their goalie turn the ball into his own net is suspect by my books. Arshavin added fuel to arguments that he is enigmatic, his normally lethal finishing suffered from a disastrous crosshair misalignment, and all-in-all United’s excellent attacking performance was significantly helped by some of the defending on show.

United’s second goal undoubtedly belongs in the top draw - it looked like the team we have watched for the last 3 seasons. However, I would argue that there were at least 3 Gunners’ defenders who were more concerned with watching the ball than tracking the run of Rooney, and they were predictably punished. Bacary Sagna was slow and sluggish in closing down Nani, and his team mates didn’t seem particularly bothered with much except being in and around the box. Add to that the third goal from Park, a player noted more for his work ethic than sublime runs, but low and behold, Arsenal managed to allow him to penetrate their entire team

I don’t mean to take away from what was undoubtedly a vintage performance from Ferguson’s team, but reports in the press that Wenger felt “let down” by players he had put so much faith in sound like an accurate account of the Frenchman’s reaction - this was not how he had written the script, and although attacking flair has always typified his Arsenal teams he has never been a manager to suffer defending like this gladly. Wenger’s comparison to a beast surely requires a massive reaction to this performance, and if his metaphor is accurate then Chelsea will suffer the backlash. However, I predict that next Sunday will in fact simply compound the Gunners’ misery, and it might have to wait until the visit of Liverpool for the reaction to surface.