Tag Archive: Premiership


Eye on the ball, as always.

Eye on the ball, as always.

‘A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon the world.’

Albert Camus

It’s difficult to become a professional footballer –  you need talent, determination and luck to become one of the elite but you also need to do what it takes to win.

Football has seen incidents over the last few years which have caused outrage.  Henry and Suarez stand out for obvious reasons but they aren’t the only ones who work outside the rules when the need arises.

I won’t bore you with self-indulgent tales of my own football career – there are no tales as such and it was not a career – but joining a team at the tender age of 24, I encountered something there I hadn’t seen before, unadulterated competitiveness.

It was not a high level, sometimes I doubted the matches even deserved to be called ‘football’, but every man on that field gave every ounce of their limited talent in pursuit of victory. The ball was thrashed back and forth between us on that lumpy pitch until someone lost and we could trudge back home dreading next week.

I bring this up because it was the very lowest level and yet, in our first training session at the start of the season, our coach taught us to impede our opponents at set pieces by standing on their feet.

At the time I thought this shocking but as the season wore on every other team seemed to do it and it gradually became just another part of the game.

There are a number of subtle ways to gain an advantage over an opponent. Players will routinely nudge their marker as he rises to head the ball to increase his chances of missing it. If a referee sees the contact, it’s a free kick, but he won’t see it every time. If that nudge results in a goal you won’t hear calls of ‘Cheat’ around the ground. It’s as illegal as a Suarez handball but not quite as blatant.

The point I’m coming around to is that football is far more enjoyable if you win and if the playing field is level and the referees are in place, we’ll do what we can to gain an advantage for our team. A professional athlete will have addressed this ethical dilemma long ago, they won’t suffer sleepless nights or fall apart, they’ll keep playing that game as they have for years – to win.

Can you brand a player ‘cheat’ simply because he does something which isn’t permitted in the rules and is missed by an inadequate system of refereeing? How important an infringement must it be to warrant such abuse?

Of course, it’s in the media’s interest to construct a moral debate around every high profile incident. Everyone acts outraged until the topic fizzles out. The conversation is never a debate and no solution is ever proffered.

Yet there is one.

If FIFA wished, they could impose sanctions retrospectively for all incidents occurring outside the rules on a football field . Perhaps they could simply ban lying?

Dishonesty is the scourge of football and could perhaps be addressed under the ‘ungentlemanly conduct’ section of the rules.

I’ve constructed a rudimentary scale below:

Premiership Morality Chart

Premiership Morality Chart

If we could stamp out the claiming of throw-in’s by players – who know full well it hit them last! – we could prevent the more heinous infractions from being perpetrated. It’s time we took action and stamped dishonesty out of football.

We could have a Fair Play league table of individuals based on their ethical performance that season?

Or a humiliating black mark on the back of their shirt for every lie they’ve told?

I hope FIFA are reading this – I’d be glad to discuss my idea further with them.

The moral dilemma here is either a problem worth solving or it isn’t a problem at all. I suspect it may be the latter.

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Gone Fishin’

With news of Roberto Di Matteo’s sudden dismissal filtering through, you would expect the managers of the world to be clamouring for the Chelsea job. Benitez certainly didn’t hesitate before throwing his crumpled hat into the ring but other coaches are quietly going about their business secretly hoping their agent gets a call with an offer they can’t refuse.

Billionaire owner Roman Abramovich may well be the best employer anyone could hope for. He has money, a fully-formed squad, there’s an excellent chance of winning a trophy in a short time and no one will blame you come the inevitable sacking. The worst thing that can happen is a fabulous payoff no matter how incompetent you are and your CV will have a notable addition.

Avram Grant came from relative obscurity to almost win the Champions League without actually doing anything. He then got two Premier League jobs on the back of his time at Chelsea. Both clubs, Portsmouth and West Ham, were relegated.

José Mourinho was on course to greatness before Roman came calling, but a free hand and unlimited funds cemented his place among the elite. He also fashioned an escape from Chelsea blaming interference from the Abramovich and the Director of Football Frank Arnesen for the less successful 06/07 season.

Di Matteo came in as Assistant Manager, then Caretaker Manager for ‘long term appointment’ André Villas-Boas. AVB struggled to wean Chelsea from their reliance upon aging players in a bid to build a solid platform and a contemporary playing style.

Roberto Di Matteo was promoted, abandoned the ‘building for the future’ plan, brought those elder statesmen back into the fold and fluked a Champions League based on a contemptible playing style . The season before, he had an application for the management of Birmingham declined. He won’t have trouble finding work now.

No manager has had their career ruined by a spell on the Chelsea carousel. Sure, you come off it feeling dizzy, you might even lose your lunch but when you steady yourself and look around, you’re still at the fairground with plenty of change in your pocket.

It’s a lottery. If you join Chelsea at the right time, there’s an excellent chance of furthering your own career on a platform built by others. Any manager would have an excellent chance of winning the Premiership with this squad bolstered by a signing or two in January.

A bad manager could make his name here.

Football Fanatics

Another quiet Saturday afternoon in England.

There are few things quite as absurd as the idea of a sports fan.

Think about it.

Forming a connection with a team or individual – often picked at random – who you root for simply because you’re watching it? Celebrating when he/she/they succeed, slumping into despair come the inevitable defeat?

We all do this. Our brain will pick sides based on unimportant information like hairstyle or gait.

Take the Olympics for example. I was extremely suspicious of the tournament before it began thinking it a bloated refuge for second tier athletes and sports (which may still be true…). However,  like pretty much everyone else in the world, it tricked me into caring about people and events I’d never heard of. After an hours viewing, I was cheering for a woman shooting at a tiny target and felt let down when she lost by 0.2 of a millimetre.

In football, year upon year, you gather memories of your team, associate these with moments in your life – a shared history forged through time until you become part of that massive organ. A fan.

Some don’t even get that choice. These are born into fandom, attending games at Celtic Park before their speech is sufficiently developed to yell abuse.  Like religion, you can be a part of it before you know it.

It’s pretty clichéd when writing something to include the dictionary definition of a word, but I’ll do that anyway:

Fan (noun) – Americanism – Short for fanatic: a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.

As a fan, you must:

  • Be biased, dispute every 50/50 call against your side and roar with righteous indignation should your opponent get one in their favour.
  • Find at least one team to hate with a ferocity which mirrors your affection for your own side.
  • Neglect your family, career and actual important things.
  • Eat unhealthily.
  • Find which item of clothing in your wardrobe causes your team to lose and burn it.

There are different types of fan of course, but one of the most vocal and difficult to respect are the busybody supporters-group fan.

You know when an athlete or Justin Bieber or someone says, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my fans…”? 

Well, these are the types of people who actually believe that.

Similar to the fact that human extinction would result if insects were somehow removed from the planet, some supporters believe their club would perish without them. Using this imagined leverage, these fans will often issue demands or express criticism to their beloved club.

Famously, a section of the Man Utd fans unhappy with new owners set up a non-league club to support instead. Some wore green and yellow scarves for the same reason but still attended games.

One of the most well-known and self-important of  supporters groups in England is Liverpool’s Spirit of Shankly group. I’ve pasted a letter they sent to Fenway Sports Group suggesting that the US owners move to Liverpool for the good of the club. They also manage to use the word ‘commensurate’:

Ø

Following yet another summer where off the pitch activities at Liverpool Football Club have dominated the headlines, we once again find the club ownership attempting to explain away business decisions that have overshadowed footballing matters.
Spirit of Shankly reiterates its stance that the position of manager at Liverpool Football Club should be supported with all of the resources at the club’s disposal.
However, events of last Friday and the subsequent “open letter” from the club’s Principal Owner, John W Henry, indicate that almost two years into FSG’s ownership of the club this is not yet the case.
As pointed out by the union in May, there remains no ownership presence on this side of the Atlantic. It is our opinion that this situation has led directly to the “mistakes” alluded to in Mr Henry’s open letter.
Should the club’s absentee owners not wish to establish a full-time base in Liverpool, it remains imperative that they appoint a Chief Executive of a calibre commensurate with the club’s global status, to act with the full authority of the owners in their absence.
 

Ø

Clubs will always look to placate such groups as they can often sway public opinion, but it is purely a lesson in PR .

Spirit of Shankly’s ultimate aim is supporter ownership of Liverpool FC. A worthy cause in theory but then again, can it be a good idea have the sort of easily distracted, blinkered characters I describe in charge of what is basically a business?

In Italy, fan groups can become far more menacing. A Genoa game was halted towards the end of last season as the home ‘Ultras’, unhappy with the teams efforts, demanded their shirts. Genoa were losing 4-0 in the 53rd minute when the Marassi crowd stopped the match by throwing fireworks and climbing on top of the tunnel. With tears in their eyes, the players bar one were forced to comply. Players, managers and owners will come and go, the Ultras consider themselves the eternal guardians of the football club.

There’s something insane and wonderful about the idea of thousands of people cheering as 11 strangers play 11 other strangers on a Saturday afternoon. There’s a mad innocence and a genuine sense of something human to that.

If only we can avoid the misplaced sense of entitlement which slips into our mindset.

Over-rated players, one every season, poorly photo-shopped.

One thing we can expect from this Premiership season is for an unfancied English striker to go on a run and score more goals than expected.

You can name any number of players if you cast the net wide enough, but I’ve come up with a list of some of the main players through recent history.

James Beattie (2003-2004), Andrew Johnson (2004-2005), Peter Crouch (2004-2005), Darren Bent (2005-2006), Marlon Harewood (2005-2006), Carlton Cole (2008-2009), Cameron Jerome (2009-2010), Andy Carroll (2010-2011), Grant Holt (2011-2012)

This player is usually a heroic line-leading striker with a ‘good touch for a big lad’. The inclusion of Johnson ruins this theory, but for the purposes of this piece we can substitute ‘good strength for a small lad’.

Eventually, hype will overtake talent but if the timing is just right, the media will work itself into a frenzy and a ‘big’ club may start sniffing around. This club is generally Liverpool.

After extensive research, I’ve concluded the player to fill the role this season is likely to be Southampton’s Rickie Lambert. Painstakingly reading his short wikipedia page it emerged that he is English, reasonably tall and has scored some goals.

This is how it will go.

Once Rickie scores in consecutive games, he’s in form. When he scores against a ‘Big Four’ team away, he becomes a quality striker. If the goals are rubbish, he’s a poacher. Spectacular goals, he’s a genius!

The tabloids link Rickie with an under-performing bigger team in January, but The Saints offer him a new contract and hang on for a possible payoff in the summer. The England boss will be seen at St Mary’s and speculation will rise. Lambert won’t be selected for the friendly that month.

If the player has 8 goals before February his reputation is set forever, any issues after this point are unlucky or down to poor form.

Rickie hits a slump. His teammates are running out of steam; they’ve played some bigger teams close together. The goals aren’t going in. Will Southampton dare to drop their star man? Should they have cashed in when they had the chance?

Rickie reaches 11-12 goals and his team probably get relegated. Liverpool don’t renew their interest in the 31-year-old and he signs for his namesake at Aston Villa for £4.5 million.

Rickie Lambert scores twice, gets injured and his career fades into mediocrity.

In line with this spurious reasoning, I will be selecting Lambert for the first half of the Fantasy Premier League this year. And so should you.

Football Manager

I was addicted to it like it was cocaine. I didn’t come out of my house. My friends would ring up and I’d ignore their calls. They’d knock at my door and I’d say I was really ill just so I could play my game and have no interruptions. I’d miss days of college to play that damn game.”

– Rapper Plan B

Sports Interactive’s Football Manager for the uninitiated is a PC game which simulates the world of football and allows you to become a manager within it. The franchise has sold over 7 million copies since 2004.

You buy/sell players, pester your board for funding, insult other managers and gradually build your team into your own capable outfit (provided the board doesn’t sack you first).

An ordinary person (generally a man) will sit down and stare at this spreadsheet of indecipherable numbers and emerge weeks later to find he’s missed work and his wife has left him. For this reason, the game has been allegedly cited in numerous divorce cases in the UK.

The game (formerly Championship Manager) is at it’s simplest, a massive database of all the worlds’ players and teams. Each of the 400,000 plus players have been scouted and rated by Sports Interactive own scouts, the expectations of your clubs board will be based on the real life expectations of your club.

In fact, Everton FC have signed a deal with Sports Interactive for full and exclusive access to the Football Manager database to give them the edge in finding talented youngsters.

Studio Director and creator Miles Jacobson was delighted: “We’ve known for a while that teams use the game to research certain players, whether to buy or to check out the opposition, but this formal recognition by a premiership team is fantastic and we are sure it will prove a fruitful one for the Everton FC.”

There is a social aspect to this game. Players feel compelled to tell each other about their solo adventures. They’ll laugh about the player they have fallen out with or boast about the league they won regardless of whether the other person is interested, almost as if recounting a dream.

One courageous manager submitted his Football Manager CV to Middlesbrough Chairman Steve Gibson in 2006. He was graciously rejected.

Researching this article I spoke with Daire, a theology graduate who had once famously worn a suit for a Football Manager cup final in his bedroom. He began listing objects he’d broken while playing the game:

Anything within reach really: Mugs, plates, lots of computer mice, a keyboard…actually I remember how I broke my keyboard!”

He then began on a story that chilled my very soul:

I had just been sacked by the board at Middlesbrough after an indifferent spell and the only job available at the time was Ross County in one of the lower Scottish leagues. I signed for them and proceeded to gradually get them promoted through the divisions.

After many [game] years, we reached the Scottish Premier league and then qualified for the Champions league.

A few seasons after that, Ross County met Barcelona in the final and were losing 2-1 going into the second half. Heroically, we brought it back to 2-2, and were soon winning 3-2 with seven minutes to go when suddenly all the lights went off and the screen went blank.

A fuse had blown in the house. Not only that, but when the power came back on it sent a surge through the old PC. It never worked again, I lost that file and never finished that game.”

To those who have never played, this may seem absurd, but that Champions League final was the culmination of perhaps 300 hours of gameplay for Daire.

It was common for players of Football Manager to break the game disks ahead of important exams or to give them to a friend for safekeeping. Now there is no need for disks at all and the game sits there on your hard drive tempting you.

The game is proud of it’s ‘addictiveness’, and when it’s loaded up it shows the amount of time you have played divided into hours, days and weeks.

Since 2004, the game greets you with a message which alters depending on that time, messages from, ‘Turning your underwear inside out saves on washing’ to ‘your relationship has now expired’

Although not formally recognised, some organisations have been set up to treat those who feel they have an unhealthy dependence on games. Online Gamers Anonymous treats it as an addiction like any other, even going so far as to produce a 12-step program to aid recovery.

Singer Robbie Williams, no stranger to addiction himself, has also struggled with a dependence on Football Manager, tweeting:

Got addicted to Football Manager AGAIN. They warned Ayda (his girlfriend Ayda Field) what would happen but I don’t think she was quite prepared for what was to come. Been on it day and night and the other day I decided to snap the disc because it all got too much. However, two days later I re-ordered it on Amazon.”

Founder of Gaming Addiction.net, Jerry Banfield battled games addiction along with alcohol abuse while working as a state police officer.

Jerry played video games while he drank ‘because drinking alone was inherently boring’ and his alcohol addiction became intertwined with his gaming.

However Football Manager creator Miles Jacobson rejects the idea that these games can be addictive.

“The game is not addictive, ‘addictive’ is an incredibly strong word, which tends to be used for things that are physically addictive.

We’re purely making an entertainment product,” he said. “People who play the game a lot play it because they really enjoy it; it’s an escape for people.

Everyone should enjoy the game responsibly, as they should enjoy everything responsibly.”

Doctor Will Meek of Vancouver agrees, stating:

This type of behavior is an impulse control disorder like pathological gambling not an “addiction” per se.”

This ‘addictiveness’ or ‘impulse control disorder’ is something that certain games boast about. The rise of Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMO) such as Everquest or Warcraft over the last 10 years has drawn most of the flack on this issue.

These MMO’s have brought worrying reports of players dying after playing for 3 days straight or horrific cases of child neglect as both parents pursue tasks in a virtual realm.

It’s a disturbing new level of immersion that, for now Football Manager cannot compete with.

Further reading: Football Manager Stole My Life by Iain Macintosh and others is published by Back Stage Press and will be released later this year.

Dear Glazers, We are in Your Debt

The final day of one of the most exciting Premier League in years is upon us with two Manchester teams competing for the trophy.

The Manchester Derby turned the title race around, Man City raced to a goal difference lead while United looked distinctly second-best.

Suddenly, the world remembers that United is owned by a family of wealth-mongers, too busy scrabbling to pay off their massive debts to sit and watch ‘soccer’ for 90 mins straight.

The Glazers have the audacity to: buy a business (legally) for profit at a stage when the club had not won the league for three years; boost that profit; increase wages and transfer spending; invest in young, talented players; back the manager to the hilt and win four titles in five years.

This greedy, American family probably don’t even bother watching as United, on course for the Premiership, lose inexplicably to Wigan Athletic, throw away a two goal lead to draw with Everton and get narrowly beaten 1-0 away to Man City in the course of a month.

If the pundits are to be believed, the rot had clearly begun with the takeover seven years ago and United were a certainty to fall short in this manner from the beginning.

David Conn (The Guardian) writes: “Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan’s squad of worldclass players assembled for Mancini, faced a United of veterans and promising youngsters who suddenly looked the product of the Glazers’ taking culture.”

I would take issue with the idea that Gareth Barry is a world class player but that’s off topic.

Oliver Kay (The Times) also blames the policy of signing younger players,

“United have gone from striving for excellence to accepting a lowering of standards under the Glazer family regime…the Glazernomics model prefers [David] De Gea, [Phil] Jones, Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez — players with potential, both on the pitch and on the balance sheet, rather than players to do a man’s job immediately.”

‘You can’t win anything with kids’ seems to be phrase making a return. Yet, it seems ludicrous to criticise a club for attempting to build for the future as well as the present, especially when the likes of Jones, Smalling and De Gea were bought for considerable fees and have shown real promise.

In pre-season, United were linked with a midfielder hailed to be the missing piece in the jigsaw, Wesley Sneijder. Sneijder’s form for struggling Inter Milan since may have meant it was a lucky escape. A £30 million transfer fee and £200k a week can still be a risk, Man City themselves can testify to that.

The simple truth is that the Glazers have spent consistently since they took over, including over 50 million this year. Granted they cannot compete with that invested by Man City’s billionaire owners, but this would still be the case if United were still owned by shareholders.

United are also outspent year on year by Barcelona and Real Madrid, both clubs sanction huge transfers despite their own substantial debts. Hardly a model to subscribe to.

Writers will label it a ‘regime’ but the Glazers are not evil, they saw an opportunity and took it.

David Conn waited less than 24 hours after the derby to leap for the Glazers:

“For now, United fans forking out for tickets may again begin to question forcefully the claim that £500m taken out of their club has made no difference, an argument which for seven long years has been an insult to their intelligence.”

Whatever about the ethics of leveraging debt onto a profitable concern, it should be remembered that the owners need the club to continue winning to service the debt. This is dependent on Man Utd maintaining it’s stature and winning tournaments. Thus far, they have accomplished this.

That said, this season cannot be regarded as a success, the humiliation of an early exit from Europe will have left its mark and they will almost certainly end this season trophyless for the first time since 2004-05.

A lack of control in key matches has hurt United as they uncharacteristically struggled to maintain possession or composure under pressure.

Paul Scholes retirement, persistent injuries to Tom Cleverley and Anderson, along with Darren Fletcher’s continued illness meant the midfield was short on experience and numbers.

Nemanja Vidic has been missing since early December leaving a gaping combative hole at the centre of defence in front of a 20-year-old goalkeeper who had never seen a cross until he arrived in England.

These factors have led to uncertain performances, yet United are on course to reach 89 points this season – usually enough to win the title.

If you can blame a single individual, it would be Sir Alex Ferguson who got his tactics badly wrong for both league meetings with Man City this season.

Let’s not forget that United were favourites for this title and are currently joint favourites with City for next season. Both clubs failed in Europe but for that matter so did Real Madrid and Barcelona, so money can’t be the only factor.

I’m not a fan of the Glazers or how they obtained the most successful team in England . If United were to free fall down the table and the owners refused to invest then I will change my opinion.

However, at this moment there is no reason to believe this season’s failure is a result of the takeover or the debt the club is burdened with. The Glazers are easy targets.

– You can also find this article on FootballBanterCentral.com

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