Archive for May, 2012

May 27, 2012

How Much Does Di Matteo’s Success Prove?

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An FA Cup and the club’s first Champions’ League win represents a remarkable success for any manager, in any season. Yet for an interim manager in charge for the remaining three months of an abject season it is nothing short of brilliant. Ironically, Di Matteo brought  to owner Abramovic the one elusive trophy that he had been looking for, just when nobody thought it possible, and whilst his back was turned looking for future manager’s who could build a team to do this. However, it is important to deconstruct Di Matteo’s performance objectively to decide whether Di Matteo is the right man for the next Chelsea era.

Firstly, the case for Di Matteo being reappointed. Abramovic’s dream has long been winning in Europe and after it cruelly eluded him in Moscow at the hands of a Jon Terry slip in 2008, it looked like the best opportunity had been and passed. Yet Di Matteo’s cautious and considerate approach ensured they could level the playing field and compete against Barcelona. This, coupled with a good FA Cup final win, has seen Di Matteo earmarked as deserving to continue as manager next season, cutting short Abramovic’s search for a long term successor. However, whilst Di Matteo’s wins are of course wins, the circumstances of them suggest the victories were less a result of managerial nous and skill than we are giving credit.

Abramovic’s investment is loosely suggested to be £1bn since his takeover, and as such Chelsea have become a firmly established club side in Europe, with this season seeing the first real decline in player ability from previous years. However, in spite of establishing themselves in Europe’s elite, and given the tremendous outpour of resources the owner has provided, the style of play exhibited by Chelsea approaching their games in Europe is utterly different to the big club style that is expected, to the extent that Chelsea resembled a relegation threatened team playing away at top of the league. As we are continually reminded football is a results business, yet it might be more worthwhile to consider intentions, as these are constant and cannot be influenced by luck. Thus, Di Matteo, rather than go out with the intention of beating the opposition, was in fact exercising a damage limitation system, intending to contain the opposition at all costs and forgoing much of their attacking threat.

Crucially, this is not to suggest that good defensive play is bad football. It isn’t. Mourinho has consistently garnered results through strategic defensive play, sitting deep and exposing the opposition on the break. And whilst there are echoes of Chelsea vs Barcelona in that, there is in fact a big discrepancy between the two. Mourinho’s set up against Barcelona, as admittedly nullifying and defensive it was with Inter, and now is with Madrid, dramatically reduces Barcelona’s chances. It contains them and blocks them, makes them look as if they lack incision and prolificacy. Yet Chelsea in neither of the semi finals nor the final did this; theirs was just meek and ineffective attempt at it. Even with every player possible forming a shield in front of the penalty box, Barcelona had a plethora of good opportunities and a handful of clear cut opportunities, and of course Bayern too had gaping chances to seal the match. This illustrates that Chelsea’s defensive tactics weren’t even effective, as it was error and mistakes from the opposition players in finishing that ensured Chelsea weren’t comfortably brushed aside. Similarly, Greece’s Euro 2004 win saw them contain and negate the opposition whilst breaking on the counter and winning set pieces. However, they were successful in preventing the opposition from having good opportunities, effectively keeping their destiny in their own hands somewhat, whereas Chelsea relied predominantly on freakish happenstance ensuring two of the world’s best players spurned match winning penalties. This does not come down to effective systems and tactics, but simply a reliance on luck.

Whatever Abramovic ultimately decides, and he’s never been one to pander to fans and media pressure, Di Matteo’s remarkable success should be taken with a pinch of salt. After all, when your success hinges on whether a man with 73 goals in one season will score a penalty or not, you’re largely helpless.

May 26, 2012

I didn’t invent anything…

I didn’t invent anything. I’m just part of a process that started before me and will continue after me

Guardiola when suggested he had put together the best football team the world has ever seen

May 21, 2012

I felt huge disappointmen…

I felt huge disappointment when I saw the starting line-up, maybe the biggest disappointment of my life

-Torres on Drogba’s selection ahead of him for the Champions’ League final.

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May 21, 2012

How Much Did Kenny’s Keeping Decide the Title?

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While Marton Fulop made a trio of mistakes this weekend, constituting two blunders sandwiched either side of a ‘he should have done better’, marking a horrid debut no less, the coverage of another three examples of questionable keeping was hardly considered; that of Paddy Kenny’s on display in the vital Man City v QPR match.

Famed for his more round physique for a top level athlete, Kenny has been recognised as having good reflexes, agility and shot stopping. However, the match on Saturday exhibited a clear weakness in positioning and handling as he was questionable for all three of the goals his side conceded. The first was the worst and most blatant. QPR looked to contain City in front of them, with Zamora and Cisse doing plenty of tracking back to form a shield around the penalty box and were doing it reasonably well, despite offering no attacking threat. However, when good build up from Zabaleta and Yaya Toure unlocked the QPR defence, a high punt at goal from Zabaleta straight at Paddy Kenny, deflected through his hands and into the far corner of the goal. As costly as the error was for the goal, it was even more damaging to QPR’s game plan. Rather than sit back and play Man City on a cautious counter attack, QPR instead had to come out and attack City to try and take something from the game, which in turn would leave them much more vulnerable themselves. City went into half time 1-0 up with Utd’s early lead redundant as City looked set for the title.

One mistake is of course forgivable though, and as Man City constantly got forward to break down QPR for a second, it came as some surprise when Lescott got completely caught under a long ball down the field, which was anticipated brilliantly by Djibril Cisse who lashed it past Joe Hart on the volley, when QPR appeared to be offering little threat otherwise. At 1-1 the game was contested in QPR’s half, with City piling on the pressure, however on the 54th minute Barton’s dismissal caused the withdrawal of Cisse for Traore to sure up the defence. Yet a surprise counter attack, which Traore played a key role in, saw a header from Jamie Mackie make the game 2-1, deflating the stadium in the process. The remaining five minutes of the match will rightly go down as some of the most entertaining in the sport’s history, yet Djeko’s equaliser wasn’t a brilliant unstoppable finish. As the ball curled in, poor defending gave him a free header, and Kenny’s momentum saw him follow the path of the cross and allow the Bosnian to score at the centre of the goal, close to the keeper’s body, a shot that could have been reacted to had he have been better positioned. The news that Bolton had only drawn with Stoke meant that QPR were safe, and the league-defining last seconds of the match saw Aguero break round the defender in the box and smash the ball beyond the QPR number one. The stadium erupted whilst simultaneously Phil Jones’ look of delight switched to a pained expression, as Utd’s march off the field became a trudge. Yet the final goal saw Aguero beat Kenny at his near post. A cliché it may be, but for a goalkeeper to be beaten at his near post from an angled shot represents extremely poor footwork and positioning.

This however, can’t take anything away from Man City who were the more impressive side throughout the season, attacking with flair and creativity whilst showing excellent defensive structure. It does however suggest that luck and circumstance will always play a part in our game, as Kenny’s mistakes gave City the win. Perhaps, so too will there be an intangible sense of fate which can engulf a match and bring a result where one looked impossible, as the City v QPR match portrayed. This weekend also suggests that the quality of a goalkeeper is often overlooked and much more significant for a team than we give credit.

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Joe Hart shows much better handling during celebrations

May 13, 2012

The football, it is crazy…

The football, it is crazy

Roberto Mancini after his side scores two goals in stoppage time to win the league from rivals United, 2012

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May 12, 2012

Jorge Mendes and the £7.4m Man Utd Flop

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Jorge Mendes is a failed professional footballer who then opened up a number of bars and night clubs, even running a video rental store, before meeting Portuguese goalkeeper Nuno in a bar and subsequently brokering his move from Portuguese club Vitoria Guimaraes to Deportivo La Coruna in Spain in 1996.

This represented the first of many deals for Mendes as a football agent, who has since gone on to become a super agent in the mould of Pini Zahavi. Zahavi’s success in England built on his knowledge of foreign leagues and players in the 90’s when in Zahavi’s words ‘there were managers who did not know anything about European players. You couldn’t even find the results of European leagues in the papers. It was a desert island and they couldn’t care less about the world game. I was able to help change attitudes’. Yet whilst knowledge of foreign football is ever increasing in the UK, during Mendes own rise his connections in Portugal have meant that he has become a go-to for Portuguese talent. Personnel he has represented has included Jose Mourinho, Nani, Quaresma, Queiroz, Pepe, Simao, Anderson, Carvalho, Tiago, Maniche, Scolari, Paulo Ferreira and Cristiano Ronaldo, for which he received £4 million pounds of the £80 million Real Madrid paid Manchester United.

The standout fact from this group of players is that they frequently coexist. Scolari and Mourinho have had these players at Chelsea, Mourinho has had some of these at Madrid and, when assistant at Man Utd, Queiroz worked with a  number of these. Which begs the question, is there a third party influence that dictates signings and transfers, external to the club and the manager? How is it that these players coexist so often, is it really coincidental? Does Mendes’ power extend beyond simply representing a player?

Yet Mendes has overseen transfers that are generally regarded as a bust too. Hugo Viana was signed by Newcastle United in 2002 for £12 million but scored only four times in two years before moving to Valencia for a reported £1.5 million, representing a good move for Hugo Viana but a huge loss for Newcastle. However, the most recent bust has come in the form of Portuguese Under 21 international, homeless throughout childhood, Bebe.

Bebe’s transfer has immensely curious circumstances. A Portuguese Division three player in the 2009/2010 season in summer 2010 he moved to first division Vitoria Guimaeres in a surprise transfer. However things became even more intriguing when Manchester United snapped the player up for £7.4 million just five weeks later. What began as a fairy tale has since been acknowledged as a flop. A big one at that. The technically and tactically deficient forward looked so much like a fish out of water in his handful of appearances that he was likened to a fan turning out for their team in a Premier League match.

So what led Man Utd and Ferguson to invest in this completely unproven player? Ferguson admitted to having never seen him play when he was signed, so it couldn’t have been his eye for a talent. Ferguson did say however that he was pushed into sealing a deal for the player, when rivals Real Madrid were sniffing, with their paper La Marca running a story of Madrid interest, United were eager to see them off and get Bebe on board. Ferguson added that he received strong recommendation from his former assistant Carlos Queiroz. The Madrid offer never materialised, and it is interesting that Queiroz found time to be study third division Portuguese football too. Curiously, Mendes has close ties with all the figures that conspired to make this deal happen, and to make Ferguson so insistent on signing the player, which saw United part with £7.4 million for a homeless forward whose only season of competitive football was in the semi professional Portuguese division three. Interesting…

If £7m on the tactically poor and defensively inept Charlie Adam represents bad value for money, then the signing of Bebe represents more of a payday for Mendes than a good prospect snatched from Madrid for Fergie. But perhaps you can afford to lose the odd battle if you were a da Silva twin’s poor defensive performance against Everton from winning the premier league with a midfield of out of retirement Paul Scholes, and England reserve player Michael Carrick. Outmaneuvering Ferguson is a rare feat, yet these curious circumstances suggest someone may have spectacularly done that. And probably got a sizeable cut too…

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May 12, 2012

Paul Lambert

Paul Lambert

Norwich manager lifts the UEFA Champion’s League with Borussia Dortmund, 1997

May 12, 2012

The Philosophy

The philosophy of Barcelona has to be bigger than winning or losing a championship

Arsene Wenger on Pep Guardiola’s resignation