Saturday, 19 January 2013

Southampton’s Sacking Shock


Sacked: Nigel Adkins (premierleague.com)

The word 'Unfair' probably doesn’t do the treatment of now former Southampton boss Nigel Adkins justice following his shocking dismissal yesterday.

Nicola Cortese, the club owner, will have some explaining to do to the Saints fans who are rightly up-in-arms over the decision, with club legend Matt Le Tissier calling the club a “laughing stock” following widespread shock and condemnation of the sacking throughout English football.

Adkins, 47, guided Southampton to back-to-back promotions and despite a very tricky start their Premier League return, had seemingly steadied the ship at St Mary’s with an impressive run of form which included the 2-2 comeback away at Chelsea. However this still was not enough it seems to spare him from the wielding of Nicola Cortese’s axe.

It seems hard to believe that a man who has done so much for a club, and was still doing a good job in the Premier League, could possibly be relieved of his duties. Cortese and the Southampton board claim it was a decision made with the club’s ambitions in mind, yet these ambitions were and have been shared by Adkins himself, something he has continually emphasised during his reign, and this is most profoundly demonstrated by his side’s rise from the Third Tier to the very top.

Puncheon celebrates his equaliser Vs Chelsea, Adkins' last game: (football365.com)
It seems like Adkins couldn’t have done anything to avoid his fate. Back in November of last year questions were being asked of his job following a wretched start to the season, something that can quite rightly be put down to the baptism of fire the club endured, which included season opening fixtures to both Manchester clubs and Arsenal .

Nevertheless, Cortese backed his well-liked manager and had appeared to have been rewarded. As Adkins himself put it, Southampton had begun to “mature” into a Premier League side, with the Saints having only lost only two games of their last twelve matches. Yet despite this impressive run of form, which has seen newly promoted side move three points clear of the drop zone, Adkins still found himself unemployed come yesterday morning.

This latest sacking reflects a growing worrying trend in English football; of owners looking to find quick-fix solutions to find instant success. Recent examples include Sean O’Driscoll at Nottingham Forest, whose owner’s sacked him on the basis of changed ambitions for immediate promotion. Chelsea are the most infamous example, with Roberto Di Matteo finding himself unemployed despite winning his owner Roman Abramovich’s ‘Holy Grail’; the Champions League. It is very rare that a change brings immediate success. Manager’s need time, but it seems time is on the verge of extinction at some clubs.

This of course is not the first time Cortese has sacked his manager sparking popular discontent. Alan Pardew was sacked two years ago despite winning the Football League Trophy, much to the disapproval of the supporters. Nevertheless, the club appointed Adkins and found themselves in the Premier League two years later.

It may have worked once for Cortese, but can it work again? On the face of it, the sacking appears short sighted. Mauricio Pochettino has no experience of English football. He can’t speak English. He arrives having formerly managed Barcelona based side Espanyol, with no major achievements to date.

Nevertheless, Pochettino and Southampton could be a perfect match. Pochettino has enjoyed a growing reputation in European football, and has been looked at by many European clubs following his decision to leave debt-ridden Espanyol in November. He is renowned for playing fast, pressing, possession football, suiting the desired style of the Saint’s owner.He successfully guided Espanyol to safety and kept them in La Liga despite excessive debts and as a result having to sell star names such as Jose Callejon to Real Madrid. More notably, he is acknowledged as being a manager who tries to develop home grown talent. At Espanyol, he has been known to have brought though twenty youngsters into the First Team during his three year tenure. A perfect fit? Potentially.

New manager Pochettino: (huffingtonpost.co.uk)
Needless to say, this doesn’t excuse the decision to sack Nigel Adkins. Adkins wasn’t told of his looming sacking until yesterday morning. He was left as shocked as the rest of us. To the neutral, it appeared he was building a solid, young side growing in maturity and adapting to the Premier League. Signings of the calibre of Gaston Ramirez, one of Europe’s most wanted players last summer, for a reported £11 million, only reiterate his ambitions for the club. How Cortese came to the decision that Adkins didn’t share the same ambitions as he did nor the ability to match them is inexplicable.

Pochettino however cannot be blamed for the board’s decision. He inherits a club with a good team and an outstanding youth setup, a club which is more than capable of staying up. The new manager certainly has the potential to succeed at Southampton, whether adapts quickly and gets the players and even trickier fans on side is another question.

Since the sacking the bookmakers have slashed the odds on Southampton staying up, which tells you what the footballing public think of events on the South Coast. Southampton host Everton on Monday night, a chance for us all to see what the Saints faithful think of the dismissal. I think it safe to say that Nicola Cortese won’t have an easy night.



Saturday, 5 January 2013

Terrace View: Fulham 1-1 Blackpool

Karagounis celebrates his late equaliser (bbc)

The Hammersmith End at Craven Cottage is where I found myself this FA Cup Third Round weekend, hoping, very optimistically, for goal-frenzy thriller. It wasn’t to be. However, although it was perhaps not the tie of the round, there was still plenty to take from the game.

As this was my second visit to the Cottage I thought it appropriate to check out the sights, in particular the infamous (ridiculous) Michael Jackson statue. My friend James, a Fulham season ticket holder, assured me that the singer had actually seen Fulham play once. Hmm.

Another friend of mine, Max, had decided to bring a Greek flag to the game, despite not actually being at all Greek. The aim of course was to attract the attention of the man on the front of the Matchday Programme; Giorgos Karagounis. The four of us, waving the flag aloft, did successfully manage to disrupt the 35 year-olds warm-up. He waved. It must have been fated that he’d score a beauty of a late equaliser.

Blackpool, currently 14th in the Championship, came into the game without a win in three, although it didn’t show in what was an impressive resolute display. The Seasider’s seemed capable of scoring every time they went forward, albeit infrequently. Fulham on the other hand, despite coming off the back of an impressive victory at West Brom, dominated proceedings but seemed to prefer to pass rather than to shoot, much to the annoyance of the Fulham faithful.

Sidwell tries to get to grips with Ince (sportinglife.com)
Liverpool target Thomas Ince was the main focus of my attention on the visitor’s team sheet and he was undoubtedly their key man. He was a constant thorn in the side of the Fulham defence. His ability to ghost away from defenders, in particular young Matthew Briggs, was especially evident, firing in two shots on goal early on that Stockdale dealt with superbly.  Whilst not every trick came off he certainly wasn’t afraid to go and attack defenders, with pretty much all of Blackpool’s attacks going through the young Englishman, except their goal, ironically. He certainly lived up to my expectations, although he still has to develop much of his overall gameplay, you could see why Liverpool are so keen on the youngster.

Dimitar Berbatov was of course the key man for the home side, not that he seemed interested. In spite of his languid style, he is clearly becoming very much a fan favourite on the Whites terraces. The fans appreciate his interplay; dropping deep, creating chances, and yes, believe it or not, helping out defensively every now and again. His close control is up there with the very best, a player of terrific technique.
However, with Berbatov looking to be creator-in-chief, there left a clear void up front. Time and time again Fulham found themselves passing from left to right stuck in the centre park. Credit of course to Michael Appleton’s side who were exceptionally well organised and had a terrific work rate. Nevertheless, when Fulham did eventually get wide there was no-one to aim for in the centre, and this perhaps led to why they didn’t take all of the spoils.

The First Half was pretty even with both sides going close, Kevin Phillips still showing why he is not resigned to playing Soccer Aid just yet…Oh. Nonetheless Fulham had a greater number of opportunities, the pick being a Bryan Ruiz free-kick tipped superbly past the post by Matt Gilks and Ashkan Dejagah missing from close range after an Alex Kacaniklic centre.

Sylvestre celebrates his goal (times.co.uk)
Fulham came out after the break the stronger, playing with a much higher tempo. However, it was Blackpool who struck first. Aston Villa loanee Nathan Delfouneso was the man behind the goal. Despite having a very quiet First Half, so quiet in fact that I turned to Ross on my left and queried whether he was playing at all, it was he who cut inside to tee-up Ludovic Sylvestre to drive home the opener. A well taken goal, the Blackpool fans were ecstatic.

Fulham then began an onslaught on the Blackpool goal. Chances came and went; usually without a shot actually being fired. Young forward Kerim Frei was introduced for Briggs and his flair, combined with impressive substitute Richardson in support, began to force the initiative. The equaliser, however, came from an unlikely source.

Giorgos Karagounis had been quietly running the show for Fulham. Constantly dropping deep to collect the ball off the centre-halves, starting attacking moves and closing down the opposition’s. By the end of the game his class had really shown through. Martin Jol said after the match he had only intended to give him a 60 minute run-out. Understandable for a player of his age. Although you can never have guessed it by the end.

The most capped Greek player ever was everywhere by now, left wing, right wing, his work rate was astonishing. He deservedly scored Fulham’s equaliser in the 80th minute. A Bryan Ruiz corner was headed away to the corner of the box where Karagounis was lurking unmarked. He stepped forward and hit it sweetly on the half volley, rifling the ball over a helpless Gilks into the corner of the net.

Karagounis' drive beats Gilks (dailymail.co.uk)
Fulham continued to press late on to a grab a winner, with Bryan Ruiz slamming a header against the bar and Rodallega putting his header wide from inside the six yard box. Ultimately though, Blackpool held on for a replay which will take place on the 15th of this month.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Why the Little Pea is still Key at OT

Hernandez celebrates after scoring against Braga (telegraph.co.uk)
It’s hard to understand how Javier Hernandez can be linked with a move away from Old Trafford. Rumours they maybe, of course, but their mere existence baffles me, especially for a player who could easily possess the potential to become a world class centre forward, and also become of great value to Manchester United.

The diminutive Mexican forward has had a frustrating start to this season, but reminded us all of what he can do by his performance last Tuesday against SC Braga. He was pivotal to United’s turnaround with two goals and he could have had more, breaking the offside trap twice only to be halted by an incorrect linesman’s flag. He played like a man with a point to prove, and he certainly grasped his opportunity, throwing himself back into contention; contention he shouldn’t be out of.

Last season Hernandez’s campaign was littered with injuries, stifling his attempts to build upon his excellent first year in the Premier League. This season he has of course had his first team opportunities limited by the arrival of Robin van Persie and the emergence of Danny Welbeck, though for me, he should still have a greater role in the United starting line-up.

‘Chicharito’ provides a different option in attack for Sir Alex Fergusson. He is one of the best forwards in the world in my opinion at being able to spring the offside trap, with a turn of pace that terrifies defences, accompanied by his remarkable potency in the air despite is size, able to steal a half-yard by ghosting away from defenders making him a nightmare to mark.

This sets him apart from van Persie, Rooney and Welbeck. He provides United with another option when going forward, diversifying their attacking options. This makes him a valuable asset at Old Trafford, an asset that United should make more of. Of late, he has been linked with possible moves to clubs such as Atletico Madrid following increased speculation over Manchester United’s interest in Poland international Robert Lewandowski. For me, replacing Hernandez with a player of Lewandowski’s elk is short sighted, as Lewandowski is a very similar player in terms of style to van Persie and Welbeck. What good is it to have three players of the same dimension?

It is also worth bearing in mind that the former Guadalajara front man is only 24 years age. He has still got the majority of his playing career ahead of him and I believe he can improve greatly before reaching his peak, as long as he is given a chance in the first team. If played regularly I see no reason why Hernandez wouldn’t become perhaps one of the most clinical forwards ever to have graced the Premier League as well as Old Trafford. If he is given a chance.

Hernandez looks set for inclusion in United’s line-up against Chelsea on Sunday, another opportunity for the Mexican to show why he deserves to be more of a regular first team starter. If Tuesday’s performance is anything to go by, then Hernandez certainly will be going out all guns blazing, and if selected, will certainly look to maintain the pressure on Fergusson to keep him in Red Devil’s starting XI.

 

 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Keeping the Handshake

(image: thestar.com)
Once more, the act of sportsmanship before a football match is thrown back into the limelight following Anton Ferdinand’s decision to snub the hands of both John Terry and Ashley Cole prior to Kick Off in QPR’s goalless draw with Chelsea at Loftus Road. Despite it being the symbol that epitomises the Respect campaign, more and more people are beginning to wonder why it should still exist in football.

In recent times, the handshake has been known to take prominence over the game itself. We have seen the Terry - Bridge snubbing, and just as infamously Suarez-Evra.  The decision to not shake hands has far reaching consequences in football, as not only does it detract attention form the game itself, but it sets a poor example to our grass-roots youngsters who take to the field every Sunday.

It is argued that football is one of the only sports to have a pre-match handshake. Take Rugby for example, another very popular sport in the UK. They do not engage in pre-match amity, and have a better reputation for respecting both the opposition, and the referees. This is in stark contrast to football, where respecting the referees requires a national campaign; Respect.

Nevertheless, football is worth a vast amount of money, especially in comparison to many other sports around the world, such as rugby. This leads to it being viewed and played by most people, especially youngsters, who look up to their stars in the Premier League. Therefore, the handshake is a pivotal way in which football preaches the ideal of sportsmanship and respect to younger generations, who in turn will not only look to apply it on the football pitch, but potentially in society as well.

It is also one of the only ways football can do so. Football receives a lot of bad press, which goes without saying, as you only need to look at the Terry-Ferdinand case to see what I mean. In football most players will mouth off to the ref, and it will go unpunished. In football, opposition fans will scream abuse at each other for ninety minutes. It is not, on the face of it, a sport that boasts emphatically the importance of Fair Play. However, it’s prevalence in life for many of all age’s means that it has a responsibility to demonstrate how to respect both the referee and the other team in some form. This achieved by the pre-match handshake, which reminds everyone, that football is just a game, and the values of sportsmanship and respect are more important than it.

It is perfectly understandable why in some instances a player want to avoid shaking hands with an opposition player. I am not disregarding the cases for reasons why a snub can take place. Yet the bottom line is this. Footballers have a duty to exhibit how to act both on a football pitch and off it. Any wrongs should be dealt with by the FA and sometimes even the courts, and if they deserve to be punished, then they should be punished severely. Players shouldn’t take the matter, quite literally, into their own hands. Snubbing the hand of an opposition player, no matter what they’ve done, is not the best example. Rising to it and being the bigger man, however, is.  

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Efficient England


Efficient is probably the best way of describing England’s performance last night in Chisinau, where Hodgson’s boys did what was needed to cast aside a lacklustre Moldovan side in a comfortable 5-0 win.

Pre-match concerns about an uneven turf did not come to fruition as creativity from Manchester United man Tom Cleverely in addition to the impressive Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain proved to be the Moldovans undoing. Both were supported by restricted maestros Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who despite being constrained by Hodgson to sit behind the two youngsters, kept England ticking and ran the show for the Three Lions.

Hodgson will be pleased to get this game out the way whilst bringing back to Blightey the obligatory three points. He has ever will be pleased with the clean sheet to match, even if their opponents haven’t scored in this calendar year.

However, he will certainly have to address the way England seemed to fade out of the game at the start of the second half. Complacency or not, Hodgson will be fully aware that his side cannot afford to do that against stronger sides, who will dually take advantage and punish them.

But England have begun their road to Rio with a bang, albeit in a stadium in the Zimbro that couldn’t be further away from the might of the Maracana. England’s next task is against Euros co-host Ukraine, who England faced last June.