Monthly Archives: August 2014

Don’t sell my Rhodes

Since Blackburn Rovers signed Jordan Rhodes in the summer of 2012, not a transfer window has passed without rumour of his imminent departure to bigger and better things, and this most recent window was no different – except in the fact that an actual bid was lodged, by Hull City.

Thankfully, the club knocked the offer back and where quick to issue a press release on the club website stating that he was not for sale (or words to that degree). For once this showed that the owners do understand the fans and what they want for the club, and perhaps more importantly, that they also see him as the future of the club, and a key figure if Blackburn are to push for the play-offs and back to the big time. This is yet another example of how the Venkys have changed over the last 12-18 months, and how they are making an effort to turn the club around, and they deserve some praise for this.

The offer from Hull was thought to be in the £12m region, a figure which I believed would force Venkys hands and sell him to, a) gain profit on what they paid for him, and b) get him off the wage bill and help satisfy the Financial Fair Play vultures hovering over Ewood Park. However, rumour has it that of the £8m Rovers spent on the Scot, £4m of this is still owed to Huddersfield, and they also have a 25% sell on clause – meaning that Blackburn would receive somewhere in the region of £5m for him – I don’t think anyone would argue that the club deserve more than that for their star asset seeing as he has made the step up from League One to Championship seamlessly – although they made their bed with the sell on clause and ultimately still owe the outstanding amount.

Perhaps what is more positive in the wider footballing world is that Rhodes only signed a new contract last month, and upon hearing of Hull’s interest, and the opportunity to play in the top flight as well as Europe (at time of going to press!), he did not force the clubs hand by putting in a transfer request. This, I believe, is a measure of the man. Since signing for Blackburn in 2012 he has picked up only 2 yellow cards; you will never see him moaning at officials or team mates; you will never see him get the hump with not being picked for Scotland; and, you will never hear about him in the news or on the front page of the paper. According to all accounts, he is more than happy at Ewood and would like to play in the Premier League with them having helped them get there. He is a rarity – a twenty-plus goal a season striker who has consistently delivered season on season, is in demand, commands a relatively high wage, but never brags about any of these things or uses them as a tool to bargain with. That said, if he was to make the step up to the Premier League away from Blackburn, Hull would probably be ideal – none of the big City lights and he would be able to go about his business continuing to keep his own council.

You could say that Jordan Rhodes is an ideal role model for any up and coming young strikers – at the age of 24 he has had no fewer than 6 clubs (including loan spells) and at the tender age of 22 he was released by Roy Keane from boyhood club Ipswich without even an explanation, but instead of feeling sorry for himself and fading away, he used it to make him stronger, saying in 2013 that in hindsight Keane had “done him a favour”.

Another reason for the collective sigh of relief in Blackburn when Bruce said he had abandoned hope of signing him, is because Blackburn are somewhat short of strikers at the minute. The current roster includes only Rudy Gestede, Chris Brown and Luke Varney, in addition to Rhodes. Gestede has started the season well, but the others remain somewhat untested at the club. The worrying thing for me is the youth development aspect of the position. At most clubs up and down the country, fans will be aware of a youngster playing in the reserves or the development squad, who they are excited about making a push for a place in the first team – this is not the case at Ewood, and has not been for some time.

Blackburn have always produced good young defenders, many of whom have gone on to bigger and better things. A case in point is Phil Jones – he was outstanding for Blackburn and was rightly given his chance at the top top level with Manchester United. When asked who would replace him at the back, a number of the senior players said Grant Hanley was the man for the job – at first this was laughed off as he had yet to hold down a position in the starting eleven, let alone a place. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and now he is the club captain and, when fit, one of the first names on the team sheet. The same cannot be said for the development of youngsters in the attacking positions.

Looking back over the past 15 years, how many young strikers could you name who originated at Blackburn and went on to do have successful careers, not just at Ewood? It is a difficult question – many will quote Matt Derbyshire, who went on to play Champions League football for Olympiakos, but he was signed at the age of 17, arguably when a lot of the development had been done. The only other player I can think of, is Jonathon Walters, currently at Stoke, who joined the club at 16. For a club the size of Blackburn Rovers with the fantastic academy facilities available and the relative success at this level, surely they should be producing more promising young forwards worthy, at least, of a place on the bench? This would not only help with the limited number of strikers currently at the club, but it would also create a buzz with the supporters, it would be a lower salary option, and it would be a wildcard (to start with) which other teams would not be 100% familiar with. When a youngster comes through the ranks it excites the supports and creates a bit of belief – something that can only help with a promotion push. And at a time when we are all too aware of the impacts of over spending on wages, this could be a brilliant solution – the question is: is there anyone in the youth development team ready to make the step up? (If you can think of any other successful striker who came through the ranks at Blackburn – answers on a post card!)

Moving back to the topic of Jordan Rhodes – Steve Bruce may have publically stated that he will be looking elsewhere for a striker, but not before a slight dig at the club, claiming that they had initially mused that they would be willing to sell Rhodes for the right price, but then went back on this. Bruce may have walked away, but he could potentially have unsettled the player – first of all by showing an interest and placing a bid, and secondly, by saying that there is someone at the club who believes Rhodes is a saleable asset. It will be interested how the developed towards the end of this window, and perhaps more so in the next window. It would not surprise me if the new contract signed by Rhodes last month contains a clause containing something about him being allowed to talk to clubs next summer, if Blackburn do not achieve promotion. To be honest, I think this is only fair. He has been the best player at the club for the last two years and without his goals in his first term we would have been relegated, and last season, his goals all but got us in to the play-offs; let’s hope this time we can go one better.

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The most unpredictable league in the world

This time 12 months ago the world was preparing for footballing life without Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm of Manchester United – his legacy passed on to his chosen one, David Moyes. Who would’ve thought back then that Manchester United would be preparing to a start a season in which they would not feature in Europe, and in which they would play in the second road of the league cup?! Who would’ve thought Sir Alex’s prodigal son, Moyes, wouldn’t even last the season? Who would’ve thought that in his first season away from football, Sir Alex might see his arch-rivals Liverpool come a whisker away from their first Premier League title? Who would’ve thought Arsenal would final end their trophy drought, with an FA Cup win at Wembley?

So twelve months on – is there much point trying to predict what will happen over the course of the next 38 Premier League matches? Probably not, but let’s run the rule over the favourites, contenders, and also-rans.

Manchester City – for me, they start the season as favourites. They may have won the league last year by default during a season of change, but they haven’t lost any players of note and key players have signed extended deals which can only be a good thing. They have also spent money, although the bulk of this has gone on a centre half with minimal caps for the French national side. They will miss Negredo as a battering ram of a plan B, but finish above them and you’ll probably win the league this season.

Liverpool – last season must have been beyond any Liverpool player’s wildest dreams, if they tell you they are happy with finishing 2nd, that will be a lie, they will never get as good a chance to win the league. This is especially so now that Suarez has left and broken up the Suarez-Sturridge partnership. Brendan Rodgers has spent the Suarez money but whether this was done wisely is yet to be seen. He has spent a lot, and brought in a lot of changes – whether this brings them success is yet to be seen. I think they will struggle this year with the loss of Suarez and the number of changes; that coupled with their return to Europe may too big a change for the Scousers, with the midweek games and renewed expectations weighing heavy on a relatively new squad. Champions League qualification this year would be a success.

Chelsea – many expected Mourinho to weave his magic upon his return last year, and the fact that he didn’t probably says a lot about the job which needed to be done at Chelsea. They have strengthened this year, and Jose will be relatively happy that the squad is becoming his own. They have a first class midfield with Fabregas, Oscar, Willian, Hazard, Matic and Ramires – but perhaps look a little short up front. Diego Costa’s style and physique suggest he is suited to the Premier League, but he will need to hit the ground running with Drogba’s advancing years, and Torres continued impersonation of the man who last pushed Liverpool towards the title before last year. But perhaps Chelsea’s secret is that their goals will come from midfield. Will likely be in the top 2 this year.

Arsenal – another stuttered campaign last time out with an awful first game of the season, followed by the usual “Wenger Out” shouts, followed by a strong start, before fading in the middle to end of the season. Arsenal arguably relied too much on Aaron Ramsey last season, and when he was side-lined their challenge fell by the wayside. With Ramsey back fit and the purchase of Sanchez (if they needed more pace and menace running from midfield), they should comfortably finish in the top four and even push the leaders. However, this may depend on whether Wenger is allowed to open the chequebook again. They are short of a striker, a centre half and possibly a defensive midfielder, and this may trip them up. If they don’t spend the money, a lot of pressure will be on Mertesacker and Koscielny to repeat their form from last season, or high expectations on Callum Chambers to step up to the plate. Top four, 3rd at a push.

Everton – a side that surprised many last season, will not have that element of attack this season. By signing two of the players who played a major factor in their high finish last season, they have done brilliant business, and unlike the traditional Everton, have splashed the cash. Whether Romelu Lukaku is already worth the £28m reportedly paid for him, is debatably, but at only 21, there is no doubt he has talent and is more than a handful, and should he do well for the Toffees, they should recoup that money, plus some. Like Manchester City, their best business has been keeping hold of their stars, and none more so than Ross Barkley. Champions League qualification looks a tough ask given the spending by teams around them, but they should be there or there abouts for the top 6 and Europa League qualification.

Tottenham Hotspur – despite finishing just 10 points off a Champions League place, last season will be viewed by many at the Lane as an absolute disaster. They lost their star player, spent the money, yet saw relatively little of what the money was invested in. Soldado failed to find his goal scoring boots, Lamela disappeared off the face of the earth and Paulinho failed to bring the Copa Cobana to London. To top it off, the man who signed them all, Andre Villas-Boas didn’t even make it to Christmas. This summer they have been more sensible with the purse strings and that may prove a good decision. The players they signed did not stop being good footballers overnight, and they are young enough to bounce back. In Pochettino they have a young manager who has shown what you can do with you and a defined playing style. I fully expect to see Erik Lamela show us what he is capable of – potentially due to input of his compatriot manager. Spurs will be pushing top four this year, but I feel will ultimately fall short, but 5th or 6th place is realistic.

Manchester United – for all connected with the club, and for all those not, last season was nothing short of a disaster. Starting the season with the question of whether Moyes could push for the title now looks a little optimistic, maybe even misplaced, as they ended up finishing outside of the European places, not just the Champions League, but the Europa League as well. Arguably the book shouldn’t only stop at Moyes; he had a squad some way off that of those around them in the league, and he allegedly lost the support of a number of the players who had pushed United to the title the season before, but as a manager, his job is to manage this to enable the team to finish as high in the table as possible, something he did not achieve. Many Manchester United fans didn’t think it the Manchester United way to sack a manager so soon in to their reign, but it just goes to show that money talks, and the threat of successive seasons without Champions League football was too great a risk for the club to take. Louis Van Gaal has been brought in after a successful World Cup campaign and has been allowed to spend money that Moyes was not – but he is not a guaranteed answer to their problems, and in all likelihood, it will take more than a season to get back on track and truly challenge for the title – however, their leave from European cup competitions may prove a benefit to their domestic campaign. They have strengthened the squad with the acquisitions of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, and a new-look attacking 3-5-1 formation should suit the array of number 10’s they have in their squad, but their new look, and potential frail backline could be their undoing. Top six should be a given, and a place in the Champions League would be a decent season.

Southampton – many would not have placed Southampton in the top ten last year, especially considering the national media attention given to the sacking of Nigel Adkins and the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino, but in his first full season in charge, the Argentinian was a revelation. They played a good, attractive style of football, combining a youthful squad with home grown talent, with steady players from across the seas. With that however, comes the bigger boys looking to take the jewels in their crown. Already gone from Southampton are Lallana, Lambert, Lovren, Shaw and Chambers – with Schneiderlin unhappy that he was not allowed to join the exodus. Even Pochettino joined the leaving party. This season they have a much trimmed and different first team to last season, along with a new manager. However, listening to comments from Saints fans they don’t seem too phased by the number of players leaving and are happy to put their faith once again in the incredibly successful youth system down at St Marys. They haven’t really spent the money from the outgoing transfer, apart from on Fraser Forster – despite goalkeeper being the one position they were relatively strong – but this could be wise given that every team will know they have the money and will be looking to up their asking prices significantly. It could be a big season for James Ward-Prowse who will be looking to stand in to the light in the absence of his former team-mates. It will be a struggle for Southampton this year and I think an initial target of survival would be wise, but it will all depend on how Koeman and the team starts – a poor start and the seed may have been sown for a season of struggles.

QPR – of the teams coming up to the Premiership, QPR look the best equipped to survive – but we have said this before, twice. Harry Redknapp hasn’t been has happy-go-lucky with the chequebook this pre-season, but the squad he has and the players at his disposal should be enough to keep them up, and the signing of Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker could prove shrewd, but whether they can adapt to the rumoured 3-5-1 formation talked of in the media, is yet to be seen. Asking players to fit in to this new style could be difficult, despite bringing Glenn Hoddle in to help with the transition. If they are struggling around Christmas time, expect the chequebook to have lost its padlock and be on the rampage. Survival should be achievable, somewhere between 11-15 most likely, but more down to poorer teams around them than their own quality.

Leicester – a very successful Championship campaign has seen Leicester finally return to the top table of English Football, but the success of that side, could be its undoing in the Premier League. At Championship level the Leicester side was efficient and featured second tier stalwarts like David Nugent, Paul Konchesky, Wes Morgan, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Chris Wood – but the step up to the Premier League is a big one. They have brought in experience in Matthew Upson, but spent big on Brighton’s Leonardo Ulloa which looks like a massive gamble. For £8m a more proven top level striker should surely have been acquired. Along with an established Championship side, Leicester’s promotion also coincided with their owner’s acknowledgement that stability is the way forward, and finally putting their faith in one manager instead of changing every 6-8 months. The question this season may be whether they stick with that faith is continued or if they will get trigger happy after a slow start (their opening fixtures do not look the most appealing), especially with Neil Lennon jobless at the minute. Survival will be difficult and beating the team around them will be crucial. Could be a long hard season ending in relegation.

Burnley – many are looking forward to the return of Burnley to take a closer look at Sean Dyche and what he is doing at the Lancashire club – and this is a reflection of the side he has put together. Last season they were not expected to challenge for promotion but managed to achieve it through automatic promotion, however, one or two more injuries and this could have been very different. Dyche has bolstered his squad with the acquisition of Premier League experience in Matthew Taylor, Steven Reid and Michael Kightly, but will it be enough, and more to the point will they be fit enough and injury free enough to have an impact on the seasons outcome? They relied heavily on the goals of Ings and Vokes, and have added to that fire power with the signing of Lucas Jutkiewicz, but it isn’t the most feared forward line in the land and goals may be an issue. Their biggest asset may be their home ground which is a million miles away from the modern stadiums of the Etihad and the Emirates, but they will have to make it a place teams won’t want to come, and a lot of this may depend on how they get on in their opener against Chelsea – keep it tight and get a draw or even a one nil defeat and the ground could prove key, lose by two or more and straight from the off they have lost that fortress factor. They will struggle, and relegation seems likely – whether Dyche goes down with his ship or jumps to a better offer may be the more interesting question.

Tips:
Winner – Manchester City

Relegation – Burnley, Leicester, and then between Sunderland, West Brom or Crystal Palace now that Pulis has gone – I’ll go for Palace.

Surprise package – Stoke – Mark Hughes has added to his side well and the signing of Bojan may prove a masterstroke.

Top Scorer – If he stays fit, Aguero, if not, Rooney. A good each way bet would be Fabregas at 66/1
One to watch – Bojan – arrives at the Britannia with a record of 180 games for the likes of Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax and Roma. At only 23 he seems to have been around for ages, but if he finds his home in Stoke, he has the quality to score and create the goals that could push Stoke on to their highest finish yet in the Premier League.

First to be sacked – Gary Monk could be in for a tricky season given the players he has lost (Michu, Davies, Chico and Vorm) and looks a decent bet at 10/1. A cheeky side bet may be for Nigel Pearson to be the first to go given their opening fixtures, and combine this with Neil Lennon to take his place and you will probably get some very nice odds (probably for a reason!).

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