Wednesday, 12 June 2013


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Wednesday, 5 June 2013

UEFA U21 Championship - Group A : Italy 1-0 England

Italy clinched victory over England in Group A's second game of the day courtesy of a late Lorenzo Insigne free kick. 

Italy had dominated a goalless first half with Insigne looking particularly dangerous.  He should have opened the scoring on 21 minutes when he played a fine one-two with Ciro Immobile but Jack Butland got off his line quickly which forced Insigne to try to lift the ball over him but he got too much on the chip and his shot went just over the bar. 

The Italians should have had a penalty on 39 minutes when Insigne broke away on the left wing before playing in Alessandro Florenzi.  Florenzi tried to cut inside but was took down by Jack Robinson.  There was definite contact but the referee waved the Italian appeals away.

England had done very little in the first half but they started off the second very quickly.  Connor Wickham had a goal rightfully disallowed for offside but I'm not sure I can say the same for England's second disallowed goal.  I'm still not sure what the goal was disallowed for and I don't even know who made the decision to disallow it.  Caulker came together with an Italian in the box but there definitely wasn't enough in it to warrant a free kick.  The ball came to Craig Dawson who headed into the goal and the England players ran to the corner in celebration for a good thirty seconds before "someone" disallowed the goal. 

After that it was all Italy and Fabio Borini went close with a header from a narrow angle which Jack Butland turned around the post.  Butland went on to have a crazy few minutes shortly after when he completely missed his punch at a corner and seconds later he blasted a clearance at Borini but fortunately for the Stoke City man the Italians were unable to punish him.

On 73 minutes, Italy went close with a well worked free kick that looked to be straight from the training ground.  The English defence should have known Italy were going to do something different after a peculiar build up to the kick.  Insigne and Marco Verratti seemed to be having an argument about who was taking the kick and Verratti lifted his shirt up exposing his stomach which was presumably a sign for the free kick.  Insigne went in to the box and made a diagonal run which wasn't tracked by the defence but he was unable to connect with his acrobatic effort.

After 77 minutes, it was time for the referee to get involved again.  Manolo Gabbiadini flicked the ball past Nathaniel Clyne superbly before the Southampton man took him to the ground.  The referee seemed to give the penalty initially but looked toward his assistant and gave a free kick on the edge of the box instead.  Fortunately, for Italy it didn't matter as Insigne stepped up and curled a right footed shot into the goal to hand Italy the lead.  Butland got a hand to it but he was at full stretch and it would have been difficult to get it around the post. 

England never really threatened again until the dying seconds when they got a free kick outside the Italian box.  Jordan Henderson got a good effort on target but Francesco Bardi made a fine save at full stretch to secure the three points for Italy.

England now face a tough task in Group A and I would consider them to be outsiders for Saturday's game against Norway.  This under 21 team shares exactly the same problems as their senior counterparts.  The English media want the team to play "good football" but the players are miles behind their European rivals in technical ability.  To be a success England need to play to their strengths and technical ability is not one of them.  The one positive tonight was the performance of Bimingham City's, Nathan Redmond who was very good on his under 21 debut. 

Italy looked decent tonight but if they are to rival whoever comes out of Group B they will need to improve.   Matteo Bianchetti, Luca Marrone and Lorenzo Insigne were impressive but I would expect to see at least one of Fabio Borini or Ciro Immobile drop out of the starting line up for the Israel game. 

Man of the Match :
Lorenzo Insigne - The diminutive Napoli star was outstanding in the first half and although England done a better job of closing him down in the second half, he still popped up with a very good winner. 

UEFA U21 Championship - Group A : Israel 2-2 Norway

Ten man Norway left it late to grab a point in the opening game of the UEFA U21 Championship breaking the hearts of hosts Israel in the process.

Israel got off to a nervy start and were sloppy in possession which presented Norway with the ball in good areas but they were unable to punish the mistakes. 

The home sides nerves were settled though when they took the lead in controversial fashion.  The referee gave a dubious corner to Israel and the Norwegians were unable to clear it,  With the ball bouncing about the box, Omar Elabdellaoui took a wild swing but caught Omri Ben Harush and the referee rightfully pointed to the spot.  Israel's captain, Nir Biton stepped up to take it and sent the Norwegian goalkeeper the wrong way.

The lead was short lived however and just nine minutes later, Norway were level.  Israel failed to deal with a cross into the box and Marcus Pedersen out muscled the defender before turning and hitting a low shot into the corner.

Norway built on that goal and should really have took the lead as they were causing all sorts of problems for the Israel back line.  Anders Konradsen hit the bar and Jo Inge Berget hit the post as Norway were taking advantage of a static Israeli defence with some smart attacking runs.

However, Norway failed to take advantage of their dominance and the game swung in Israel's favour just before half time when Vegar Eggen Hedenstad saw red when he brought down Mohammed Kalibat who was through with the goalkeeper to beat.  I'm not sure the referee got this right though as, although the striker was clear of Hedenstad, the angle he was running at would have took him into the path of Fredrik Semb Berge who may have been able to make a challenge.  The referee felt otherwise though and made a decision that was to have a huge impact on the result.

Even with ten men Norway still looked the better side and the goal scorer, Pedersen could and should have added to his tally.  Twice he found himself one on one with the goalkeeper and twice he failed to find the back of the net.  Konradsen was again denied by the woodwork when his deflected shot hit the post and Norway were perhaps thinking the God's were conspiring against them.

Israel began to get into the match as Norway tired and should have took the lead when Moanes Dabour turned in the box but blasted into the side netting with the goal at his mercy.

They weren't to be denied minutes later though when the ball fell to Alon Turgeman fifteen yards from goal and he blasted a volley past Orjan Nyland to send the home fans into raptures.

With time running out it looked like Israel were going to hang on for a famous victory but Norway had other ideas and forced a stoppage time equaliser.  Havard Nielsen chested the ball into the path of Harmeet Singh who connected beautifully with his left foot from outside the box to earn Norway a well deserved point.

On the balance of play a draw was probably a fair result but I think the key point of this game was the red card and if both teams had finished with eleven men I think we would be talking about a Norway victory.

It's hard to see Israel getting much joy from either of their last two games but Norway showed enough to make me think when the four senior internationals return to the squad they might just have enough to get out of this group. 

Man of the Match :
Marcus Pedersen (Norway) - The Odense striker scored one goal and should have had several more but poor finishing let him down.  I could criticise him for the missed chances but instead I will give him credit for the skills and movement that created the opportunities.  I will be looking forward to see him in the next two games and expect that his finishing will be better if he gets the same volume of chances as he did in this game.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

UEFA Under 21 Championship Preview

The 19th UEFA Under 21 Championship kicks off in Israel on Wednesday 5th June with a strong line up including former winners Italy, England, Russia, Netherlands, Germany and defending champions Spain.  Hosts Israel and Norway complete the line up and all eight teams will be hoping to be crowned European Champions.

This is my favourite international tournament outside the World Cup and European Championships as the players are often established at their clubs but there are always one or two gems that use this tournament to launch their careers to superstar level.

I have enjoyed watching in recent seasons as many of the stars in this tournament have gone on to win some of the most prestigious prizes in world football.  In fact a look at the list of players who have won the award for Player of the Tournament is like a who's who of some of the biggest names in football over the last 20-30 years.  Rudi Voller, Laurent Blanc, Davor Suker, Luis Figo, Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo, Petr Cech, Klass-Jan Huntelaar and Juan Mata are all winners of the Under-21 Golden Player award and I have no doubt that a look at the squad lists in five or six years will include European Championship winners, Champions League winners and maybe even World Cup winners.

Once again the eight teams are split into two groups of four with the top two in each group progressing to the knock out stages.  On paper Group B looks like the stronger but we all know that football results are decided on the pitch rather than on paper and there could be a surprise on the cards.

With all that in mind, let's take a look at the teams.



Ave age :
Senior Caps :
5 players (9 caps)
Most U21 Caps : Danny Rose (27)

England arrive in Israel with the youngest squad of all the competing nations.  There's not a lot in it but they are the youngest team and with just 9 senior caps between them it's difficult to see who the team will look to as a leader.

Jordan Henderson has 5 caps to his name and despite a slow start to his Liverpool career, his form has improved this season and he is slowly paying back the high price Liverpool paid Sunderland for his services.

Steven Caulker is another player who is building a reputation for himself after a solid season at Tottenham.  He won his first England cap this season and done well last summer with Team GB at the Olympics.

In attack England will look to Wilfried Zaha and Tom Ince to provide the spark.  The duo are highly rated but they are Championship players and the other teams have players who are competing in the Champions League so it is hard to see much success for England.

I think England have made a mistake by not sending senior internationals like Phil Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as I think it would be good for their development but instead they are playing in friendly games for the senior team.  Time will tell if this strategy pays off but I think it's a mistake.

One To Watch :
Jack Butland - Butland has signed for Stoke City from Birmingham so we will finally get to see him at the top level next season but from what I have saw he looks like a top class goalkeeper.  Joe Hart is doing fine for now but I think Butland will go past him in the next year or two and should be England's number one for many years to come.


Ave Age :
Senior Caps :
4 players (18 caps)
Most U21 Caps :
Boris Klaiman, Nir Biton, Eyal Golasa (17)

Israel are a team I don't know a lot about and it is hard to get an idea of their form as they did not have to go through qualification after winning the right to host the tournament. 

A look at their squad shows that only Fulham's, Omri Altman played outside Israel last season.  He didn't make any senior appearances though.  Orr Barouch is owned by Chicago Fire but spent the year on loan at Bnei Yehuda. 

Much of Israel's hopes appear to lie with their midfield duo Nir Biton and Eyal Golasa.  Both are establishing themselves with the senior team and they will need to be at their best if Israel are to make much of an impact.

One To Watch :
Nir Biton - The captain has had a trial at Manchester City and at 21 years old there is still plenty of time for the defensive midfielder to make the move to one of Europe's big leagues. 


Ave Age : 21.57
Senior Caps : 6 players (12 caps)
Most U21 Caps : Luca Marrone (30)

Italy will be looking to build on their excellent record in this competition by winning it for a sixth time.  The Italians are two wins ahead of Spain who have won it three times.  Many Italians will think the win is overdue as it has been nine years since their last victory.  That's not a bad record for most countries but the Italians won five of the seven competitions between 1992 and 2004 so they can be forgiven for thinking that four tournaments without a win is a bit of a drought.

This Italian team has a few established stars with eight of the squad having made 20 or more appearances in Serie A this season.  Alessandro Florenzi, Lorenzo Insigne and Mattia Destro look like stars in the making and they look like strong favourites to come through Group A.

One To Watch :
Marco Verratti - Verratti had an excellent season for Paris St Germain, making 27 league appearances and 9 Champions League appearances for the French champions.  At just 20 years old he looks like being a huge star in the future.


Ave Age :
Senior Caps : 14 players (71 caps)
Most U21 Caps : Harmeet Singh (35)

Norway have a very experienced squad with 71 senior caps between them but ironically that may prove to be their downfall.  The senior team have a World Cup Qualifier with Albania on 7th June and four key members of the Under 21's are in the squad.  They will join the Under 21's after the Albania game but they will miss the Israel game for definite and with Norway due to play their second group game on Saturday, less than 24 hours after the Albania game, they may well be ruled out of that game too.

Valon Berisha, Markus Henriksen and Havard Nordtveit look to be the stars of this Norway team but unfortunately they are three of the players who will be in action against Albania so Norway's hopes will hang on getting something without them whilst hoping they return in as good a condition as possible for the two remaining games. 

One To Watch :
Havard Nordtveit - Hopefully, for Norway's sake and as a neutral, we get to see Nordtveit in action.  31 Bundesliga appearances, 7 Europa League appearances for Borussia Monchengladbach and 9 Norway caps suggests that he is one to look out for. 


Ave Age :
Senior Caps : 1 player (3 caps)
Most U21 Caps : Lewis Holtby (21)

Germany will be one of the favourites for this tournament despite the fact that Lewis Holtby is the only senior international in the squad.  For most countries that would be a cause for concern but after failure in Euro 2000, Germany put a lot into developing young players and they are now reaping the rewards.  The senior team includes Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Mats Hummels who won this tournament in 2009 so there's not much room for this generation of young talent yet and they can continue to develop at this level. 

Whilst the squad doesn't have a lot of senior international experience, 15 of the squad made at least 16 appearances in the Bundesliga this season.  With the Bundesliga being arguably the best league in Europe at the moment a squad of players who are playing regularly in it could be hard to beat. 

One To Watch :
Lewis Holtby - Holtby has a great record at this level scoring 13 goals in his 21 caps.  He joined Tottenham in January and made 11 appearances in the Premier League and I expect he will make a serious impact next season.

Ave Age :
Senior Caps : 12 players (61 caps)
Most U21 Caps : Leroy Fer (27)

Many people will think that Group B is all about Spain and Germany but this looks like a very strong Netherlands team.  The squad has 61 senior caps between them and although they had a poor Euro 2012, they were in the 2010 World Cup Final.  The Netherlands are one of the top countries in international football and the fact that this squad has so many senior internationals has to be respected. 

Not only does the squad have experienced internationals but there is also experience of top level European competition.  Ajax duo, Ricardo van Rhijn and Daley Blind both played in all six Champions League games.  Benfica's Ola John, Anderlecht's Bram Nuytinck and Danny Hoesen of Ajax also played Champions League football.  PSV trio, Memphis, Kevin Strootman and Georginio Wijnaldum all played Europa League football and when you add Feyenoord's Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi, Jordy Clasie and Borussia Monchengladbach's Luuk de Jong it is easy to make a case for the Dutch having a good chance of winning the tournament. 

One To Watch :
Georginio Wijnaldum - The 22 year old from PSV has had a fantastic season and looks like the next Dutch star attacking midfielder.  He scored 14 league goals and 4 Europa League goals in 5 appearances.  If he keeps that form up it is only a matter of time before he is making a move to one of Europe's elite. 


Ave Age :
Senior Caps : 8 players (49 caps)
Most U21 Caps : Fyodor Smolov (27)

Russia will be underdogs in Group B but with attackers as good as Aleksandr Kokorin, Fyodor Smolov and Alan Dzagoev in their squad they will at the very least have a punchers chance.

Smolov scored 9 goals in 7 qualifiers to get here and with Kokorin and Dzagoev, who have 40 senior caps between them, the Russians will certainly pose an attacking threat.  In qualifying they conceded just 5 goals in the group stage so they will fancy their chances of causing an upset.

One To Watch :
Alan Dzagoev - Dzagoev lit up Euro 2012 last summer so I would fully expect him to be a constant danger at this level.  With 8 goals in 27 games for the senior team he should be a stand out playing against teams in this age group. 


Ave Age :
Senior Caps :
3 players (5 caps)
Most U21 Caps : David de Gea (22)

Spain will rightfully come into this tournament as hot favourites.  Their squad is very strong and would probably get out of the groups at the senior Euros but they won't be taking anything for granted as they had an equally impressive squad in last summers Olympics and fell at the first hurdle. 

This squad includes 11 players with Champions League experience this year, 3 with Europa League experience and 2 who played a key role in guiding Real Sociedad to qualification for next year's Champions League.

Like the Germans this squad doesn't have a lot of senior internationals but it's not a concern as the senior side have won the last three major tournaments so it is a very hard squad to break into and these players can try to win another under age title for Spain before pursuing their senior careers.

One To Watch :
Isco - Spain seem to have an unlimited supply of attacking midfielders and Isco looks to be the best of this generation.  Juan Mata won the Golden Player in 2011 and I wouldn't be surprised if Isco won it this time. 

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Pep Guardiola - The Luckiest Man In Football

Sport is full of stories about people getting lucky breaks, being in the right place at the right time and of people making the most of the opportunities handed to them but in my opinion these phrases sum up one man better than most.  That man is new Bayern Munich Head Coach, Pep Guardiola. 

Guardiola must be one of the luckiest people in world football.  He was a very good player winning six La Liga's, two Copa del Rey's, four Spanish Super Cups, a European Cup, a European Cup Winners Cup, two European Super Cups and an Olympic gold medal but it's since his playing career ended in 2006 that his fortunes have really picked up.

Some ex players go into the media, some go into minor coaching roles and some go into management.  Guardiola was fortunate that he was so highly thought of at Barcelona from his playing days that they decided to hand him the job of manager of their B team in 2007.  After a successful season he was promoted to manage the first team when Frank Rijkaard left the club.  After just one season in charge of a team playing in the third tier of Spanish football, Guardiola now found himself in charge of one of the biggest clubs in world football and a team that had been crowned European Champions just two years before. 

I can't think of many other managers who had such a quick rise to the top and a look at the other modern era managers who have won multiple European Cups shows that the rest of the games top coaches had to earn their places at the top.  Guardiola has to consider himself very fortunate as he inherited a fantastic side with players like Carlos Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o. 

As much as people like to talk about Barcelona bringing through their own talent it's not entirely true.  Obviously, they have brought some fantastic players through their youth teams but they also backed Guardiola in the transfer market.  In his four seasons at the club they spent hundreds of millions on Dani Alves, Seydou Keita, Gerard Pique, Alexander Hleb, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Dmytro Chygrynskiy, David Villa, Javier Mascherano, Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas.  That's quite a list of talent and whilst they didn't always work out, the point is he was given the best players to do his job from the very beginning. 

Guardiola took advantage of this opportunity and rewarded Barcelona with a very successful period in their history.  In his four year spell he won fourteen trophies; three La Liga titles, two Copa Del Rey's, three Spanish Super Cups, two European Cup's, two European Super Cup's and two Club World Cup's.  Nobody can argue with the trophies he won in his time at Barcelona but I do feel there are questions about how much of a part he played in this success. 

The Barcelona squad he took charge of has been considered by many to have been the greatest club side of all time.  Lionel Messi is one of the best players I've ever saw.  Xavi and Iniesta are legendary figures too and were at the peak of their powers throughout the years that Guardiola managed them.  Those three alone could have pushed any side to the top of Europe but Guardiola also had world class players all over the park to support them.  Time will tell how good Guardiola is but he certainly landed on his feet when he got the Barcelona job. 

After resigning last year Guardiola said he was taking a year out and despite being linked with many top jobs he has stuck to his decision and has taken a year away from the game although he did announce his plans for next season back in January.  Bayern Munich announced that Pep would be taking over the German giants from next season as their current manager, Jupp Heynckes was set to retire. 

Since then, Bayern Munich have secured the Bundesliga title by a huge margin and also set about the Champions League knock out stages in amazing fashion, obliterating Arsenal, Juventus and Barcelona on the way to their third Champions League Final in four years.  Bayern managed to squeeze past their German rivals, Borussia Dortmund in the Final and now have the chance to secure a famous treble when they face Stuttgart in the German Cup Final.  They have already announced that Dortmund star, Mario Gotze will join them next season and it is also expected that his team mate, Robert Lewandowski will join him in Munich next season.  Once again, Guardiola seems to be landing on his feet by taking over a team in a position of strength. 

Guardiola will go to Munich this summer inheriting the best squad in Europe and Bayern have always been one of the biggest spenders in football so he will be well backed.  I do like him but I think he still has a point to prove.  Most managers could make a success of managing Barcelona and if he needs an example of how the grass isn't always greener, he should look at the man he replaced. 

Frank Rijkaard had a successful spell in charge of Barcelona but followed it up with unsuccessful spells at Galatasaray and Saudi Arabia.  Whether Guardiola is a truly elite coach or just another Frank Rijkaard remains to be seen but he has certainly enjoyed a fair share of luck in the fact that he has arrived at two great clubs at just the right time.

Monday, 20 May 2013

21st May 2003 - My Best And Worst Day As A Celtic Fan

The 21st May 2003 is a day that brings about mixed emotions for Celtic fans.  It's a day that we are very proud of but it's also a day that broke our hearts.  It was a day that I'll never forget but it's also a day that I've tried not to look back on until now.

I think when asked about that day most Celtic fans will remember the huge numbers of Celtic fans who were in the Estadio Olimpico de Sevilla and the thousands more who made the trip without tickets.  Many will talk about Henrik Larsson's brace and the bravery of the players in difficult conditions.

Not many fans will mention the result, Bobo Balde's red card or Rab Douglas' mistake that led to the winning goal.  I'm not sure if it's just a Celtic thing or whether it's something all football fans do but all the bad memories of that day have been erased from the memory and the positives are still there.

I am one of a large number of Celtic fans who have never watched the highlights of that game.  I have saw hundreds and possibly thousands of Celtic fans on various forms of social media and message boards say that they have never watched it.  I actually have the official video, "The Road To Seville" in my parents house but as far as I'm concerned it finishes with Henrik Larsson's late winner against Boavista.

When I decided to pen this article I did consider watching the highlights but I'm not ashamed to admit that when I thought about it I got a real sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.   I honestly think the only way I will ever watch that game again is if we get to another European Final and win it.

My own personal memories of that day are faded now but I will try to piece them together.  I was eighteen at the time and went to work as normal.  I seem to remember a newspaper in the office that had a mock up on the front of Paul Lambert lifting the UEFA Cup with the headline "the picture all Celtic fans want to see tonight."

The joys of working flexi hours meant I could leave early.  After work I went home and tried to eat something and then got myself dressed for the occasion.  Shorts, Celtic top, oversized sunglasses, an oversized leprechaun hat and a beach ball seemed to be the obvious choice of attire.  Fed, watered and dressed appropriately it was beer time.

The St Comgalls Club, Larne was my venue of choice and I never saw the place look so well.  The room was jam packed with green and white.  People, flags and beach balls everywhere and everyone of them in the hoops.  I seem to remember a promotion of some continental beer at a pound a pint so I was all set.

My memories aren't great of the game itself so forgive me if some of it is inaccurate.  I could obviously search the internet for answers but I think it means more coming from memory.  I recall the first half was a cagey affair which Celtic grew into as the game progressed.  However, Porto took the lead just before the break just as we were finally starting to believe that we could win.

Many a team would have crumbled after conceding so close to half time but it seemed to give Celtic a new lease of life and they started the second half like a team who had nothing to lose.  Henrik Larsson equalised with a great header from a Didier Agathe cross.  I only remember it was Agathe with the assist as I spent most of his Celtic career praising his pace and criticising his crossing but even I had to admit he got that one spot on.

Unfortunately, it didn't last for long though and Porto took the lead again but thankfully the "King of Kings", Larsson was on top form and he equalised with another excellent header.  From there the game went into extra time.

I remember Balde's red card for what was quite a rash tackle if my memory is correct. When Bobo got sent off I still felt like we needed to find a goal as I didn't fancy a penalty shootout.  Unfortunately, after what seemed like an eternity of hanging on with ten men, Rab Douglas made his customary howler and Porto took a late lead.

My last and perhaps clearest memory of the game was a late Celtic free kick in a good position outside the box.  Shaun Maloney had been earning himself a reputation as a reliable set piece taker but on this occasion he fluffed his lines and hit possibly the worst free kick of his career.  I don't remember the final whistle, Celtic receiving their medals or Porto lifting the trophy.  All I remember was taking a private moment to get my emotions under control and heading to the bar with a friend for treble vodkas, a vodka for each trophy Celtic were going to win the following season.

It's funny when I think back to Seville as the Final itself is way down my list of memories.  When I think of Seville my first thought is the Semi-Final.  The goal Henrik Larsson scored is still my favourite moment as a Celtic fan.  Boavista had been so negative for the full game and it looked as though they were going to be rewarded with a place in the Final until the footballing God's intervened.

Other great memories were beating Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park after listening to the English media saying about how easily Blackburn were going to beat us.  There was an away goals victory over Celta Vigo and a classic 5-4 aggregate win over Stuttgart.  I will also never forget big John Hartson scoring a screamer at Anfield in the Quarter-Final to see us past Liverpool.

I have watched all of those on video and on YouTube but all I've watched of the Final is a few of the fans singing in the Fanzone.  Maybe one day I'll find it in myself to watch the game but as it stands, ten years later, it's still too painful.

Looking back on it, it was a very special time to be a Celtic fan.  We had some very talented players including one of the best in the world in Henrik Larsson.  Back then many people didn't appreciate Larsson as he was "only playing in the SPL."  After he left us he went onto Barcelona were he swung the 2006 Champions League Final in the Catalans favour, breaking the hearts of Arsenal fans all over the world and he also had a brief loan spell at Manchester United were he won over a lot of his doubters who thought he wasn't good enough for the Premier League. 

I'll always look back with fond memories of the 2003 Celtic team.  All of the players involved and the management will always have a special place in mine and every Celtic fans hearts but unfortunately I don't think I'll ever be able to look back at what was without doubt their greatest achievement, at least not with dry eyes. 

Friday, 17 May 2013

The Managerial Merry Go Round

The football world has been dominated in recent weeks by news of managerial changes.

Sir Alex Ferguson started it all off by announcing his shock decision to retire as manager of Manchester United.  United moved quickly to appoint David Moyes as his replacement which created a vacancy at Everton.  I'm not totally convinced that Moyes is the right man for the job but most United fans seem happy with him and believe that he deserves a shot at one of the big jobs.

My own opinion is that United don't need to take a gamble on anyone.  They're one of the biggest clubs in the world and could have pretty much anyone they wanted.  For me Moyes is an unnecessary risk and they should have went for someone with a proven record who could guarantee success. Time will tell how good Moyes is but for me his record at Everton is pretty much par as he has them performing at the level I'd expect Everton to be at.

The Everton board now have to look at who they want to replace Moyes.  Much of the talk has been about Roberto Martinez and Neil Lennon.  Of those two Martinez would be a better appointment but I think he might give Wigan another year as he won't want to end his time there as the manager who got them relegated.

That leaves Neil Lennon but as a Celtic fan I don't think he would be a great appointment for Everton.  His stock was increased by the Champions League run but from watching Celtic every week I'm not convinced by him.  He seems to struggle to motivate the players in certain games and some of the changes he makes during games are bizarre. 

Whilst I don't think Everton should appoint him, the Celtic fan in me would love it to happen.  I love Neil Lennon and he will rightfully be remembered as a club legend for his time as a player.  He played and later captained us through what was a very successful period in our history but I genuinely don't think he has the right attributes to be a long term manager at Celtic.  If he were to take the Everton job he could leave Celtic with his head held high.  I would hate it if he stayed at the club and ended up being sacked as it's the last thing he deserves for all the years service but unless the domestic performances improve it is a realistic possibility.

The man who I would like to see get the Everton job is Gus Poyet.  Poyet has done a fine job since his playing days ended, coaching at Leeds and Tottenham before taking on the Brighton manager's job.  In his time at Leeds he assisted Dennis Wise and whether it was coincidental or not, there was a huge drop in fortunes when Poyet left for Tottenham.  Personally, I think it was no coincidence and that Poyet was the brains behind the operation but we will never know for sure. 

In his time at Brighton he has took them from being a relegation threatened League One club to the Championship playoffs.  His CV is almost identical to David Moyes' at this stage in his career.  Moyes took over a struggling Preston before guiding them to promotion and then losing in the playoffs for promotion to the Premier League.  The move may have been made a little easier too with the news that Poyet has been suspended as Brighton manager for a "breach of contract."  In one of his interviews after losing in the playoff semi-finals to Crystal Palace he commented on his future, indicating that he did not know whether or not he would be at Brighton next year.  It may be messy but it certainly looks like Poyet's time at Brighton is coming to an end and Everton would be perfect move for both parties.

Another big job up for grabs is Manchester City.  Roberto Mancini was sacked on Monday following City's FA Cup Final defeat to relegated, Wigan Athletic.  In my honest opinion it was only a matter of time before Mancini was sacked and I think the club will be better off without him.  Mancini earned a reputation as a top manager after winning three Serie A titles with Inter Milan.  When you read it like that it looks impressive.  However, the fact is he never won the first title.  Inter finished third that year but Juventus and AC Milan were deducted points after being caught up in a match fixing scandal which meant Inter were awarded the title.  The following season saw Juventus playing in Serie B and AC Milan beginning the year minus eight points and understandably Inter romped to the title.  In Mancini's final season at Inter, he won another title, narrowly edging Roma to the championship.  Juventus were still recovering from the effects of losing half their squad the season before and Milan's ageing squad was finally catching up on them. 

On paper, Mancini's three Serie A titles look impressive but when investigated a little further, the record really isn't as good as it seems.  He also struggled to make an impact in the Champions League and made the Quarter-Finals on just one occasion.  He was eventually sacked after the 2007/08 season and replaced by Jose Mourinho.  This decision was criticised by many at the time but Mourinho went onto win the Champions League in his second season so the Inter board were proven to be right in the end.

Since Mancini arrived in Manchester he was well backed by the owners who spent millions to give him all the tools he required to make City a top team not only in England but also in Europe.  In three and a half years he managed to pick up an FA Cup and the Premier League title but for the money he spent I don't think the City owners got value for money.  Once again his European record was terrible with City twice failing to make it out of the group stages of the Champions League.  Many will point to the groups they have been drawn into and there is no doubt they have had tough draws but for the money he has spent and the squad at his disposal it was nowhere near good enough.  Last year Bayern Munich and Napoli made it out of the group ahead of City.  Bayern Munich was fair enough but Napoli weren't world beaters and City should have been able to get the better of them.  This year people will say that Dortmund and Real Madrid went onto reach the Final and the Semi-Final which is a fair point but they finished bottom of the group behind those two and Ajax who went on to get knocked out of the Europa League by Steaua Bucharest. 

For me it was the right decision and thoughts now turn to who will replace him.  Manuel Pellegrini appears to be the hot favourite and I think he would be a decent man to get the nod.  His record since coming to Europe has been impressive.  In his time at Villarreal he took a small provincial club to the Champions League Semi-Final before losing out narrowly to Arsenal.  He also guided them to a second place finish in La Liga.  After leaving Villarreal he had a year at Real Madrid were he never done much wrong but just finished behind the best team in the world.  His Real Madrid team finished the year with ninety-six points which was a club record at the time but Barcelona managed ninety-nine to pip Madrid to the title.  After being released from Real Madrid he moved to Malaga.  Malaga were another provincial club but once again he managed to guide them to the Champions League and they were extremely unlucky to be knocked out by Borussia Dortmund after conceding two goals in stoppage time. 

Pellegrini is yet to be officially confirmed as City manager but it looks as though it's just a matter of time before he gets the job and if the board give him the financial backing they gave Mancini, I expect the trophy cabinet at Eastlands to have a few pots in it by the end of next season. 

The other big job opening in England is the poisoned chalice at Stamford Bridge.  The only thing Roman Abramovich loves more than winning trophies is appointing new managers and Chelsea will have yet another new man in the dugout when the 2013/14 season kicks off.  Rafa Benitez has done a decent job as interim manager, qualifying for next years Champions League and winning the Europa League but his position is untenable as he has a fractured relationship with the Chelsea fans which dates back to his time as Liverpool manager.  It's a pity as Benitez has done well and deserves a crack at it but there's no chance of it happening. 

The media and pretty much everyone in the footballing world seem to think that the job is Jose Mourinho's.  He has had a rough spell in Madrid and in typical Mourinho fashion he has clashed with players, media and fans.  It seems that he has decided that enough is enough and he will leave at the end of the season.  He always said he felt there was unfinished business at Chelsea and it looks as though he feels now is the time to go back and finish what he started. 

I am a big Mourinho fan but I do have a few reservations about this appointment.  Everyone knows about Mourinho's ego and for anyone that doesn't I've no doubt Jose himself would be only too happy to tell you how great he is.  The problem is Chelsea already have a huge ego at the club and Mourinho's biggest problem is the other big ego sits in the board room and is the guy who signs all the cheques.  It didn't work out between Mourinho and Abramovich the last time so why is it going to work this time?  As I see it, nothing has changed since last time.  If anything they've both got worse and I just don't see this story having a happy ending. 

If Mourinho does leave Real Madrid, that will be another huge job that needs a big name manager.  Rumour has it that Carlo Ancellotti may be in line to leave PSG to take it which in turn would leave another huge job to be filled. 

Whilst all this managerial merry go round is happening there is one man who I would like to see make a move to one of the bigger clubs.  That man is Borussia Dortmund manager, Jurgen Klopp.  Klopp has done an amazing job at Dortmund and many people will ask would he leave the Champions League finalists but with the news that Mario Gotze is leaving for Bayern Munich and rumours circulating that Ilkay Gundogan, Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and Mats Hummels could also be moving on you would wonder will Klopp want to rebuild the squad again.  Gotze on his own is a huge loss to Dortmund but if the others leave too then surely Klopp will have to consider his future.  The one thing standing in the way is Klopp seems to be one of the few in football who have loyalty and respect for their contracts but I just wonder how many more players he can afford to lose and still feel he can keep Dortmund competitive. 

Right now there seems to be more questions than answers and with the Premier League finishing this weekend there may be even more managerial casualties and as the weeks pass things should become a little clearer.  With new managers usually comes new signings so despite the fact that the league is coming to an end at the weekend, the real drama is just about to get under way.