Tag Archives: Football

Can English football benefit from a Draft?

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This week I watched the NFL draft for the first time, and despite being slightly wary of whether it would be an entertaining and enjoyable experience, I absolutely loved it. The question in mind throughout was “could this be introduced in to English football to make it more open and competitive?”

 For those people not familiar with the NFL Draft, in a nutshell, the team which finished with the worst record the previous season gets the first NFL Draft pick, working down to the team who won the Superbowl picking last. There are 7 rounds to the draft, each following the same order, resulting in 253 players being ‘drafted’. The players available for the draft are those eligible from college football – that meaning: those who have been out of High School for 3 years or more; those who submit as an underclassman whom the NFL then grade, giving the players the chance to go in to the draft or continue at school; those who have graduated from College within 1 year; if you didn’t go to college you can apply once four seasons have passed since you or classmates graduated High School. The usual route in to the draft is to be play College Football, be scouted, and attend the NFL Combine and school Pro-Days. All seems pretty straight forward – the worst team from the previous season gets to pick the best player out of the system to give them the chance to improve, and ultimately to keep the NFL competitive; that is where the phrase “Any Given Sunday” comes from; in the NFL, any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday. It is rare that the worse team one season, is the worse team the following season. Similarly, the Superbowl is not often won by the same team in consecutive years.

Straightforward, right? Wrong. To improve their prospects, NFL teams will trade for better picks. For instance, if you like the look of a player in the draft and your team has a need for that position, but their pick is further down the list, they can trade with a team higher up the list to get a better chance of acquiring that player – but this usually costs them; not in financial terms but in terms of additional picks. In this way, a team may trade their first pick for multiple picks in later rounds or even the following years draft. For example, the LA Rams traded their first round pick in the 2017 draft in addition to other picks, for the Tennessee Titans overall first pick in the draft in 2016 to enable them to sign Jared Goff (a strange decision given that Goff hardly featured in a poor first season for the Rams in their maiden year in LA). In this years draft, the Chicago Bears who were due to pick third overall, traded up one place with the San Francisco 49ers and took Quarterback Mitch Trubisky, costing them their 3rd, 67th and 111th pick in this years draft, and a 3rd round pick in next years draft. A lot to give up to pick one slot earlier, for a quarterback who isn’t highly rated by everybody and who the San Francisco 49ers probably wouldn’t have picked. So why do it? The risk in the draft is that if you don’t pick up the phone and make the deal with the 49ers, someone else might, and they might take that pick that you wanted.

The actual NFL Draft programme itself may seem boring on paper: you watch 32 teams each make the equivalent of 7 picks over 3 nights. In round 1 once the draft starts, each team has 10 minutes to make their pick and notify the NFL; once they have submitted their pick, the next team is on the clock. As the draft goes in to the later rounds, the amount of time teams have to make their pick reduces (7 minutes for round 2 and so on). The Cleveland Browns who had the overall first pick, you would think, wouldn’t need all 10 minutes to make their pick as they have had months to review the options and make their decisions, but they hang on in case the phone rings and there is a trade on offer too good to turn down. As was the case this year, they took Myles Garrett as predicted, with all the action happening for the 2nd pick. From an entertainment perspective, the time actually flew in the open rounds as you get ‘experts’ take on who each team will pick, and then who has been picked, with trades happening all the time. In the later rounds, for myself, I wasn’t too familiar with the players on offer so the excitement waned a little.

From a football perspective, the whole Draft event is very much like Transfer Deadline Day on speed. Jim White would no doubt lap up the job of NFL Commissioner presenting each pick to the fans.

On a serious note though, is there scope for something like the draft in English football? Every year we are told that it is harder and harder to break in to the top 6 of the Premier League, and that the gap between the divisions is getting greater and greater, but nothing is being done to stop this and make the divisions more competitive. Whilst at the same time, every club bemoans the way the transfer windows work which result in the over inflation of prices and teams paying over the odds for players on the last day – think Moussa Sissokho. So could a Draft-like system help?

The first stumbling block is the nature of the Draft in that it is College footballers who are drafted. In England we don’t follow a system whereby the best young players are picked from schools or university’s as part of an open forum; we operate by club scouts scouring schools and amateur leagues to find the best young prospects and offering them contracts. For the most part, these players are then not seen again for a number of years until they surface in the Youth Development Squads and then the first team (or if you are at Chelsea, you’ll be loaned out for multiple seasons and then sold in to obscurity for the most part). The Chelsea reference is intended as a joke, but there is a serious side: a lot of young talented footballers are snapped up en mass by the bigger clubs and then continuously being loaned out without ever being given a fair crack at the first team. I know why teams do it, bulk buy and hope you find the next star, whilst also preventing your rivals acquiring the same potential star. But for the individuals involved it doesn’t necessarily work, and surely these players would be better suited joining a team lower down the leagues and actually playing; which ultimately would create more of a level playing field, as young talent can help improve those teams. An additional benefit would also be more home grown players getting game time.

So perhaps the Draft in its purest duplication in football in England would not work, but there is the potential for a sort of draft to be implemented once youngsters reach the Youth Development Squads at their clubs, or even a draft-like system for loan signings. So my two proposals for implementing a draft like system to improve competitiveness down the leagues, increase the number of home-grown players getting game time, and ultimately getting players game time are as follows:

  1. Youth Development Draft – each team has a certain number of players who they can choose to retain from the Youth Development Squad, which excludes them from the Draft. The remainder of players who are due to “graduate” from the Youth Development Squad are entered in to a Draft. The sequence of Draft picks are determined by where a team finished that season – 24th in League Two would pick first, with the Premier League Winners picking last. The Draft would continue until all eligible players that season had been taken.
  2. Loan Draft – before a player in the Youth Development Squad reaches “graduation age” (say 21 for example) they can be made available for loan, similar to the current system, where again, a draft approach would be adopted for all these players, with the order of picks following the above. The traditional system for loaning ‘above-age’ players would still be followed; with the additional caveat that if a player is listed for loan and not loaned out before the draft, they can also be included as part of the draft.

This would allow the big clubs to spend millions on superstars to keep their clubs progressing, but it would get more youngsters playing week in and week out, improving competitiveness throughout the leagues and increasing the number of home-grown players getting game time which can only be good for the Home Nations national sides. It would also stop so many promising young players dropping out of the game for good. Its just an idea, but with so many clubs struggling to compete financially, surely this is a sensible way for them to improve their playing squads and outlooks.  

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‘The Curse’ of football betting

Let me take you back to the (not so) hot summer of 2010, Soccer City – Johannesburg, Friday 2nd July, the last minute of extra time – Asamoah Gyan steps up to take a penalty to put his nation, Ghana through to the World Cup semi-finals, making them the first African team to do so. There was no way he could miss. He takes a good pelanty. He’s confident, cocky almost. I state what I think is going to happen – “No way will he miss this, Ghana are going to the semi’s”. And bang – he hit the bar and it went over, necessitating a penalty shoot-out, which ironically he scored in, but his team went on to lose against Uruguay. The Curse was born.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBDK-HEbIZs

Ever since then, whenever I have predicted something, even the most obvious and blatant of scenarios, the complete opposite happens. Not just in football either. In games where one team is bossing it, I’ll state the fact and put money on them winning, then the opposite happens – to the point where the missus asks me what I think and she actually bets on the opposite outcome, a strategy which has won her a considerable number of bets.

I am a Blackburn fan, and towards the beginning of last season I stated that I didn’t think Yakubu was that good and I wouldn’t necessarily be playing him. Cue the curse to rear its ugly head, the very next game, the Yak bagged himself a double brace, four goals against Swansea – he may as well have celebrated by running off and flashing two, two fingered salutes in my direction at the back of the Blackburn End. Another Rovers scenario – 3-1 up at Carrow Road with ten minutes remaining – “we’ll be out the bottom three at last” – two late late goals from the Canaries and the blues remain in the bottom three. You could probably go as far as to say my curse is as much to blame as the Venky’s running of the club for their demise.

Which brings me on to my dream team. I see myself as quite an astute football fan with a good knowledge of players across Europe, and not just the big name players. As a result of this I pride myself somewhat on my dream team. I’m not quite sure for the reasoning behind this as I have never had a successful team and have yet to break in to the top 100,000 in numerous media leagues. In the Premier League last season I entered three private leagues – my finishing positions: 11th out of 11, 41st out of 43 and 249th out of 251. My record is nearly as good as Alex McLeish ‘Relegation Mastermind’.

I thought the Euro’s would be my opportunity to banish the domestic demons – I was so confident I actually set my own league up.

One week in to the tournament and my back for has yet to keep a clean sheet between them. My midfield has yet to assist or score a goal. And more worryingly, my forwards have also yet to score a goal. My team is summed up by one man: Aleksandr Kerzhakov.

The man leads the line for the Russians, who have arguably the most straight-forward group in the championship, I thought, there are goals there for them, and with Kerzhakov up top, that will mean goals for him. I was so confident in him I also placed money on him to be the top goalscorer at the tournament. Two games in and he has yet to score, although the Russians ran riot over the Czech’s scoring four in doing so. In his first game at the Euro’s he missed seven chances, a Championship record. To put it in to perspective, he missed chances that Emile Heskey would have scored. I believe after two games he has now missed twelve chances. However, he has had one assist, hitting the post from 4 yards out and the Russian’s scoring the follow-up.

 

So Aleksandr Kerzhakov, let me take this opportunity to apologies to you for my selfish use of the curse to terrorise your tournament. Whilst we’re in apologetic mode, I’ll also take this chance to issues my sincerest condolences to France who have no chance of even making it to the Final as I have them each-way to win the whole thing. In the opening group game I had an offer from a bookies, whatever you bet we will match with a free bet: £20 on Holland to beat Denmark, and then I put the free £20 on Holland to beat Denmark and the Germans to beat Portugal – I may as well have set fire to £40!

As I type this though, the winds seem to be changing. After losing all my bets in the first seven days of the tournament, and that is a considerable number of bets, I have a winner. The irony is, it comes from Andy Carroll, the man I have done nothing but slate for the past 18 months – Andy, I am forever grateful.

Looking at the Euro’s and at the risk of ruining the hopes of a number of nations…. The Germans look the strongest team so far and in Gomez they have a striker who, like Yakubu, will offer nothing for 89 minutes, but then pop up with the winner in the last minute. The Russians started well, but didn’t rise to the occasion for the Poland game. I don’t think the Dutch will now get through the group and I think the Portuguese will get a point and go through and possibly get to the semi-finals. Spain are Spain and will pass their way to either the semi’s or the final, but I think they may come undone against a team who can defend resolutely like the Italians did, but perhaps have more power upfront. The Italians look to have put their off the pitch issues behind them and have set up a team playing to each players attributes, and in De Rossi they have a man who will sit in front of the back four to protect them but also give them an outball which allows them to build from the back. And finally, Group D, I think France have the potential to win the tournament, but a lot may depend on the shooting boots of Karim Benzema in the latter stages as he is yet to find the right size; and England, rejuvenated, patriotic, fighting for their chance to progress – they appear to have weathered the storm without Rooney, but the worry is that they struggled to make an impact and create chances against a French side, if they are to go all the way they will need to show more intent then they did in the France game against the other contenders.

My tip to win is either France or Italy, and my tip for Golden boot – Torres………

So lump your money on the opposite!

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Press Officer to CEO – The next step in the demise of BRFC

They say a week is a long time in football – if your a Blackburn Rovers fan, you’d think it was a nano-second. Although the days of Big Sam’s reign seem long ago, it was just 19 months ago (next Tuesday) – some would say that those days where long ago – others would argue that the downfall of the Lancashire club has been so rapid, it could have been last December – the wounds are still bleeding.

The turn at Ewood took another strange and derranged turn this week with Paul Agnew being appointed the General Manager of the club (a CEO in all but name). So what, you may be saying, “he’s fulfilled the role before at neighbours, Preston”. However, would you see the postboy at a global company become the Managing Director overnight? In football terms, would you put an under 15’s goalkeeper upfront for the senior team cup final? The answer (unless you are the postboy or the young shot-stopper) would invariably be a resounding ‘no’ – especially if that ‘General Manager’ was to be in charge of the day to day running, including: transfers, wages, sponsorship, ticketing, pre-season arrangements, and most of all, overseeing the return to the Premier League of your beloved club.

Looking at this from a different angle, only weeks ago the two Venky’s brothers – Venkatesh and Balaji – where obviously looking to move Mr Kean on, but their attempts where halted by their sister, Anuradha Desai, who opted to give herself ‘a month or so’ to make the right decision. It then emerged that Steve Kean wanted to start making decisions other than the team, allegedly meeting with Ms Desai and her brothers and suggesting one Paul Agnew be promoted from his role as ‘Press and Public relations officer’.

To put this in perspective, for the last season, there has been discontent at Ewood Park, the voicings of a fan mutany being before the home game to Arsenal back in September, when a march to the ground was planned to voice fears and worries over Kean’s handling of the club and ability as a manager. The situation got no better as the results got worse and the season developed into a relegation battle, with everything coming to a head in the home clash against Bolton in mid-December, a game which Blackburn ended up losing 2-1. Cue widespread protest both during and after the game. Following this, the fans were promised if they kept off the players (and ultimately managers) back they would be granted some form of communication with the people running the club (this itself is a major question at the minute – but I digress). In return, the fans got behind the team and refrained from protesting against the manager, and results picked up, only to be followed by two wins in nine games – and no communication or meeting with the fans. Protests again started, with fans believing the manager should have been changed prior to the January transfer window (a window where key players Samba, Nelson and Roberts where sold, on top of the Salgado who had been frozen out for seemingly no reason, and the sale of Andrews, Diouf and the release of Emerton earlier in the season – and who came in? Anthony Modeste (????) and Bradley Orr) – bearing in mind, since well before that game against Bolton on 20th December, not a word had been heard from the owners or their representatives. The only sight of the owners was them leaving at half-time during the game at Wigan (if they’d stayed until the end they’d have seen why we are all football fans – a last minute penalty to steal a point).

At this point, rather than listen to the fans concerns – as they obviously are oblivious to their pain – they decided to turn on them, enforcing a strict “no banner” policy for the remainder if the season. A decision which seems ironic, when during the last game of the season a chicken wearing a Blackburn Rovers flag was snook in to the ground and released on to the pitch.

Returning back to the movements of players during the season, at various times, fans were told Nelson, Salgado and Roberts where injured, only for players to admit through social media and other outlets, that they were fit and able to play. Jason Roberts didn’t really feature following the arrival of Yakubu, but this was in part put down to the players ‘injuries’ – after signing for Reading he scored 6 goals in 17 games and played a key part in helping Reading achieve promotion; similarly, following an injury sustainained in the game against Arsenal back in September, Salgado did not feature, however he was able to fly out to Pune (ANOTHER story!) and play in testimonial matches around the world whilst being ‘injured’; and finally, and arguably the most blatent sign of foul play – Ryan Nelson – the previous club captain, fan favourite and stalwart of the club – fans where told his knee injury was serious and that they where looking to release him from his contract so that he could return to his homeland for further treatment – cue the entrance of ‘Arry Redknapp. Ever a man to sniff out a bargain, at 10:30pm on January transfer deadline day, he made whispers of an experienced premier league player being potentially available on a free, at 10:59pm Nelson was a Tottenham player. Mr Kean’s response to this, I’d be amazed if he plays again as he’s been ‘struggling for fitness’ and has “only played a handfull of Reserve games this season”. Nelson made his Spurs debut 11 days later.

But what has all this got to do with Paul Agnew (or had you forgot about his nice new promotion?)? The point is – all the above happened with him in charge of ‘Press and Public Relations’: since the takeover in November 2010 there has been barely a squeek in the media from Venky’s or anyone associated with the club (until they either left or got sacked – the latter usually being because they had spoken out about the poor running of the club, aka Paul Hunt) – Steve kept going on his trips to Pune, talking a good game (Champions League, Carling Cup, Ronaldhino), getting new contracts, and returning saying the owners are committed. Not even the loyal local paper, the Lancashire Telegraph, could get an interview with the Venky’s, despite numerous attempts, public letters and the backing of the fans – in the end, the paper has had to feed of tit-bits and take the side of the fans – in my lifetime, I have never seen the LT go against a manager to the extent of openly agreeing he should be sacked. All this lack of media activity, communication and collaboration, while Mr Paul Agnew (now GM), was in charge of ‘Press and Public Relations’ – you could argue that in fairness he was due a promotion, as he was as good at his Press and Media role as Steve Kean is managing; and he got a nice new contract.

Where does the madness end? It appears that Steve Kean has got his way and not only kept his job, but got his buddy (the man who banned all questions regarding Kean’s future and the protests during interviews – however, he did manage to communicate to the press about Steve needing a bodyguard) a role in running the club. It has to be asked – “who really is running Blackburn Rovers”?

All of this calls into question the FA/Premier League’s fit and proper persons test, and would like to know who in their eyes owns the club?

What is clear and apparent (and it doesn’t need a press and media mogul such as Agnew to tell you) is that the club and the majority of fans (for Mr Kean’s sake lets say 99%) are not in a healthy relationship at the minute, and at a time when a club is looking for season ticket sales to boost a clubs revenue, this is not going to be healthy for either club or fans. I for one have already renewed my season ticket and will continue to do so whoever owns the club and whoever is the manager – at the end of the day, you don’t support the owners, you support your club, through thick and thin.

My honest opinion for the 2012-13 season: far from Mr Kean’s boasts of a safe season and a Carling Cup win, I think Messrs Kean and Agnew will do well to avoid relegation for a second consecutive season.

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A week in the managerial life….

They say a week is a long time in football – this week could not be more relevant, particularly in the position of Manager (or Head Coach as its often referred to on the continent). In the space of 7 days there have been: two sackings; one slanderous comment which could result in the sack; a caretaker manager bidding to win the Champions League but is not likely to continue that role even if he wins; and the task of replacing a manager who has left to manage the national side. And to add to this, just weeks ago, the most successful manager in recent times has also left his post at Barcelona.

So, starting with Aston Villa and the departure of Alex McLiesh. He was never taken in by many of the fans from the start due to his Birmingham City blue nose history. But in my opinon, more importantly, he hasn’t had the best Premier League record, with his relegation with Birmingham City at the end of the 2010-11 season being the second time he had taken them down. This was proved when Villa finished the 2011-12 season with less points than Birmingham City got relegated with, but due to their being 5 worse teams, they survived. Early rumours are that Villa are looking at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Paul Lambert – but my advice would be stear well clear of the job. The Villa fans crave the success of the past, and in recent years have spent a lot of money on the likes of Darren Bent, Ashley Young, James Milner and Stewart Downing, only to sell them on a couple of years later (I think it is only a matter of time before Bent follows suit with the others) – and the money raised has not been reinvested, with the owners preferring to utilise the youth academy system instead. My choice for the job would be someone of the ilk of Bob Bradley from the USA, the homeland of owner Randy Lerner, or someone like Alan Curbishley who has been out of the job for a while but has a proven track record. The only thing standing in his way however, is that that record has been in keeping clubs in the division, and not winning trophies – but at the minute perhaps this is what Villa need.

Liverpool. King Kenny. Who would have thought he could even get the sack, never mind, have to travel to the owners territory and back again to get the dreaded boot. Hi stats speak for themself though – over £100m spent and no top four finish. Although they have won a cup and hit the woodwork more than anyone else in the league – the Champions League is where the money is at. Again, like Villa, I think Liverpool need to understand that they are no longer one of the big hitters of the Premier League who are feared and almost guaranteed a top four finish each season. Since the days of Rafa Benitiz Liverpool have somewhat stalled and if anything gone backwards under the Kings stewardship, with Manchester City and arguably Tottentham moving ahead of them. With regards to Kenny’s successor – the yanks have in the baseball world adopted an approach of taking in a youngish manager and sticking with them for a number of years and eventually reaping the rewards. For this reason, and mostly to the discontent of most Liverpool fans, I think the replacement will be either AVB or someone of the ilk of Didier Deschamps.

Chelsea – I’ll keep this review short as to get inside Abromovich’s head is almost a mission most impossible. If Roberto Di Matteo wins the Champions League tonight I still don’t the he will keep the job, as Roman will have intentions for someone else. He is known to go for big prominant names, however, the appointment of AVB to marshall the end of the careers of cult heroes such as Terry, Lampard and Drogba backfired, with their omissions leading to poor results (Mereiles isn’t fit to tie Lampards boots!) and ultimately his exit. My tip for the Chelsea managers job is Fabio Cappello. Two weeks ago I would have said possibly Mourinho, but his success in La Liga I think will drive him on to go for the Champions League next season. An outside bet would be Harry Redknapp as I believe Spurs may be at the end of their tether with his off the field issues and disappointment at their poor finish to the season from what looked like a certain 3rd spot.

WBA – this is perhaps the most intriguing of the managerial merry-go-round as they have had their hand forced – had England not taken Hodgson I think his job was the safest in the leaue behing Ferguson, Moyes and Pardew (this season). His work there, an at Fulham, has been nothing short of remarkable – steering both from relegation against the odds and in following seasons pushing them towards european qualification. He will be difficult to replace. I think we could see another cross midlands move with Chris Hughton leaving the blue noses for the Baggies – he, like Hodgson, has again worked wonders and over achieved at Birmigham getting them in to the play-offs before the shear volume of games took its toll (not forgetting their european exploits earlier in the season) – and not forgetting the work he did at Newcastle before his face no longer fit with the owner.

And finally, Blackburn Rovers – who, as I write this, are not managerless, however against the odds this is. I must admit I am biased on this topic with myself being a life-long Blackburn fan and season ticket owner – but the days of winning the league and european qualification are long gone. The question at Ewood is – how has he still got a job? His record is very poor (he can’t be far off the worst win percentage in the premier league now – a record I am sure Tony Adams will be hoping gets broken soon); his tactical knowledge appears to be lacking; hs transfer policy is questionable; and his knowledge of the law appears to be absent. This week he has been seen filmed back in the summer of 2011 sticking the knife in the back of Allardyce and twisting it between the shoulder blades; predicting a cup success; and boasting about his exploits of finding hidden talent at the club. Rightly so, Allardyce has taken legal advice under the accusation of him being a ‘f****** crook’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xcB9XfLjL8), add this to the drink driving prosecution Kean has already faced and he is building up quite a reputation. What frustrates the Blackburn fans most is his lies. Even in the videos the lies still spout out about how he found Olsson (who was playing under Hughes) and how he plucked Jones from the academy (people at other clubs were aware of Jones then as well as fans of the club), and the last nail in the coffin – following relegation, admitting that these were ‘exciting times’ for Blackburn Rovers. I wonder if that offer for Ronaldhino is still on the table. Unfortunately, as it stands, Kean is still in a job and it doesn’t look like he is going anywhere – but the real problem, which most Blackburn fans realise, is the owners, the Venky’s, who have ripped the club to pieces yet shown no interest in running the club. The fear of many is that they will take the parachute payment, sell the prized player assets and then head for the hills – although in the short term this would be devastating, in the long term, this may be the best option. Survival next season is already in doubt.

Predictions: –

Bayern Munich 3 – 1 Chelsea

West Ham 3-2 Blackpool

Aston Villa – Alan Curbishley

Chelsea – Fabio Cappello

Liverpool – AVB

WBA – Chris Hughton

Blackburn Rovers  – Steve Kean

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