Pre-Season Hostilities

As Manchester United jet off to South Africa, and Liverpool prepared to take on Toronto, Blackburn took their first steps of preparation for a promotion campaign with a double-header against Fleetwood Town and Accrington Stanley at the Crown Ground.

Starting with the football the two games where like chalk and cheese – the first against Fleetwood was more of a chess match with tactics and slow build up dictating the pace of the game – the second against Accrington was played at a much higher tempo from the start with the team who made the most out of their few chances likely to take the win. Blackburn won one and lost one. Interestingly it was the marathon match which Blackburn won, and the sprint which they lost, albeit due to the slippery hands of Paul Robinson.

Robinson was definitely the villain as a simple header slipped through his hands and left im diving across his goal line in true Rob Green fashion. This came, however, after the second half was late kicking off due to Robinson signing autographs for both sets of fans behind the goal. He followed this with playful banter with the crowd, and a display of affection for the club and its supporters, which will most likely mean his mistake will quickly be forgotten if stays true to his actions of pointing to the badge indicating he will go nowhere this summer.

Of the two games, the first won by goals from Formica and Nuno Gomes, two players stood out as definite prospects for the future. In the first game, Paulo Jorge, a Portuguese midfielder on trial from Porto, looked calm and unphased on the ball, and looked to want it at all times possible – something Blackburn lacked towards the end of last season. In the second game, young Anthony O’Connor  showed signs of a composed centre back who was good in the air, read the game and looked composed on the ball. Also worth a mention is new old boy Danny Murphy – for his entire time on the pitch he didn’t often leave the middle third – taking the ball from the goalkeeper and defence and linking this with the midfield and the attack – it would be interesting to see how he would have fit in to an Allardyce team. These ball composed ball players will be key for Blackburn this year as there is no big traditional centre forward to win the long balls, as evidenced by Goodwillie, who will be a fine goalscorer when accompanied by a mate but is relatively impotent up front on his own.

To the hostilities – with new signings, trialists and youngsters on the pitch, the crowd continued its tirade against Kean. From nearly the first minute of the first game the chanting for Steve Kean to be axed started. It was interesting that in the second game, the crowd seemed for interesting in cheering for the team and in particular Robinson, until the goal went in, and almost instantly the chanting turned to Kean on the bench. It is almost a convenient excuse now for some fans – it was a poor game, but a goal which came from a mistake by the former national keeper was seemingly all Steve Kean’s fault. What is even more interesting is how the team will play next year – the above scenario  indicates that the fans believe the blame all lies at Kean’s feet no matter how the team plays – surely this means the team can play without fear? There are rumours that many supporters will stay away from Ewood next year and only go to the away games in protest – this could mean that the ‘boo-boys’ will not be present at Ewood, and their will  be less pressure on the manager and team. But then how will the atmosphere be at away games? Will they put their love of the team/club ahead of their hate for Kean and Venkys and get behind the team? Or will they use it as a further opportunity to voice the opinion of the manager, the owners and the running of the club?

I don’t agree with Kean still being at the helm, and I can’t say I am overly optimistic about the owners and the running of the club. However, to be so volatile towards a manager in a pre-season is out-of-order (after the final whistle in the second game, the team were booed off) – particularly with so many trialists, youngsters and new signings – how does that portray the club and atmosphere they will have to play if they decide to sign? These are the players we are looking to to get us get promotion – lets not scare them off before they get here.

It appears that once again Mr Kean and the Venkys are going nowhere, no matter what hatred and protesting is deployed. From my view, there is no way that Kean can turn the supporters around, I don’t believe even promotion will change people’s views. But in saying this, history tells you that a team who is being booed and their manager jeered is not going to mount any form of promotion attempt let alone achieve promotion. I don’t know what the solution is other than Kean to be removed from his position, but it doesn’t look as though that is going to happen. In the meantime, while we hope and pray, the supporters need to get behind the team, forget there is a clown at the helm, and cheer the team, which will consist of a number of youngsters, on in the direction of promotion.


Viva Espana

So the Euro’s have come to a close with what most expected, Spanish dominance. There was the false hope that Pirlo and Balotelli brought after their victory against the Germans, but I think deep down, everyone new that it would take a miracle, a fluke, or at least penalties, for the Azuri to get past the all-conquering Spanish Armada.

The new question is: “Are this Spanish side the best international side in history?” They are the first team to win three major tournaments in a row (discounting the Olympics, which Europeans don’t class as ‘Major’ but which the South Americans treat with the respect us Europeans give to tournaments such as the Euro’s). Yet another question also remains, can a team dubbed as ‘boring’ by many during the Euro’s really be the ‘best team in history’?

Firstly, are the tiki-taka Spaniards even boring at all? A team which has well over 70% of possession in most games and which can win by multiple goals to nil without even employing a known striker or attacker can never be called dull or boring. To watch Spain play can at times be mesmerizing. They always have an option, and although many state the 70% possession is a false statistic as many of the passes are less than 5 foot strokes, and not 60 yard pings, this is what makes the team so successful. They all have composure on the ball, none ever rush a pass or panic, and each knows when to run with the ball and when to pass sideways or backwards – take Jordi Alba’s goal in the final for example. The reason they are called boring by people, mainly Brits, is that they don’t play the ‘British way’: midfielders who ‘get stuck in’; wingers who get wide and run at defenders; defenders who get forward and score headers from corners/free kicks; and strikers who bully defenders during a war of attrition and use brute strength to get a powerful goal. The Spaniards pass the ball around, wait for the a chance to present itself, usually when the opposition has lost discipline, and then slip the ball through, usually, for a majestic finish to finish the goal off.

The team which many argue are indeed the best in history are the Brazil team of 1970 – consisting of the likes of Jairzinho, Tostao, Pele, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto and Paulo Cezar to name a couple. The difference between these two contenders is indeed the style of play, and ultimately, the style of goals they scored. Not many will remember the goals scored by the Spaniards in years to come (unless you are of Spanish decent) as none of them where world-class individual efforts. But ask anyone who watched the 1970 world cup or has watched it since and they will no doubt be able to recall Rivelinho’s free kick against the Czech’s, or Jairzinho’s brace against them – one of which came from a long ball, the second was a fine individual effort beating three men – none of which is common viewing when watching the Spanish team – as some put it: gentleman prefer blondes. This relates the theory that you are more likely to remember something that is a bit different, which stands out from the crowd – in this case, individual and spectacular goals. The Brazil team from 1970 world cup in Mexico had speed and skill as well as power and grace. In comparison, a similar style description would say the Spanish squad of 2008-2012 had grace, trickery, organisation, discipline and composure – my personal opinion is that I like the sound of the Brazilian team over the Spanish team – yet this does not mean that I find the Spanish team boring, more that I find the Brazilian team more exciting. Excited perhaps by the idea that the Brazilians next goal could be more magnificent that all those that have gone before it.

A second view of why Spain are seen as boring is their predictable nature. You know how they are going to play – it will always be tiki-taka football where the opposition will get limited time on the ball and more than 50% of the time it will be in their own half. When Spain go a goal ahead, it is very unlikely that they will concede or that the opposition will come from behind to win – Spain have not conceded a goal in the knockout stage of a major competition since the World Cup in 2006, when Zinedine Zidane sealed a 3-1 victory for France in the round of 16. The way the Brazilians played, and still play, is often ‘we will score more goals than you’ – this gives the opposition a number of chances to score and cause an upset, and lets face it, we all love an underdog!

Now that the answer of the best team has been solved, how do England take the mantle from the boys from Rio? Should they copy Spain’s style, Brazil’s style or simply play the English way? The answer I believe is none of the above. If England try to adopt Spain’s style, this has to be implemented at under 10 level now, meaning we won’t see the result for at least another decade, like the Spaniards after Euro ’96, and as a country, England is notoriously impatient. Secondly, if we adopt another countries style, any victory or praise given will always come with the stigma that we copied someone else and weren’t able to do it our own way. The solution is to mix the English style of play where we applaud 60-70 yard passes, love a bulldog of a striker and admire midfielders and defenders who get stuck in and take one for the team – with the love of the ball the Spaniards possess and the attacking potency of the Brazilians. The English team needs to learn to keep the ball, show composure, and not treat it as a hot potato. The team need to learn that there are 11 of them on the pitch striving for the same thing, not just one of them who has a point to prove to the press or manager, players need to learn when it is right to take men on and fashion a chance for themselves, and to learn when it is better to stop, go backwards and rebuild. Finally, the best players need to be picked for the national team, regardless of the club they play for, the wages they earn and any historical misdemeanors. A number of English players can feel rightly agreed at not being on the plane to the Euros, particularly at the expense of some of the players who went. Rooney could have only featured in one game, Ashley Young hasn’t had the greatest season, Jermain Defoe can’t get in the Tottenham team, Stuart Downing hadn’t scored all season from an attacking position, to name a few. Micah Richards has been phenomenal at Manchester City, Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair have played the Barcelona way with results at Swansea, Grant Holt has been scoring week in week out at Norwich, and a player I believe to be one of the most under-rated, Leon Osman, has never had a look in, despite year upon year of consistent performances, scoring goals, creating chances and being a near ever-present for an over-achieving Everton side. In a day and age when there are stats to support everything, maybe the England manager should take a look at everyone on the basis of how they perform and who are statistically the best players.

Looking to the future, I don’t think the Spanish will be able to retain the World Cup in 2014, although they may win the Olympics later this year. The weather will be hot, the Brazilians will be used to the weather and will thrive on the home support, that combined with some truly exciting players coming through to the national team. I can’t see a winner outside of South America, and that’s including Uruguay and Argentina. If England want to do well at the World Cup they need to start now – there is no point in keeping playing with the likes of Terry, Ferdinand, Lampard and Gerrard, the new younger players of the future need to be integrated now. Qualifying should not be an issue given England’s group, and if the youngsters aren’t good enough to achieve qualification, they definitely aren’t good enough to win it.

Tip of the week: Brazil to win the Olympics in London (15/8) and then to win the World Cup (7/2) given a return of almost 13/1.