Tag Archives: Football

Fly Eagles Fly

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What a Super Bowl!!! Although I’m relatively new to American Football, this is one of the most exciting and end to end games I have watched, and the fact it came in the biggest game of the season only adds more kudos to it. Despite the Philadelphia Eagles finishing the regular season as the number one seed, they had been underdogs throughout the Play-Offs against first the Atlanta Falcons, then the Minnesota Vikings, and finally against the New England Patriots, due to the loss of their quarter-back Carson Wentz to a torn ACL and LCL on the 10th December. Without the injury he would surely have go on to be the league MVP.

Triumph against adversity indeed, not to mention the fact they had never lifted the Vince Lombardi trophy before this, having lost twice in the big game, and as they where facing the Patriots – a team who has appeared at the Super Bowl more than any other team, and returning for the fourth time in seven years. This is American Football though, the story of the underdog, the story of the American Dream, and the league which wants to be open and competitive – a team winning their third trophy in four years is not a good advertisement for “America’s Game”. Perhaps our footballing game needs to take a look at how the American’s do it before we end up with a game so detached from the real world of day to day people and so elitist people switch off and the bubble bursts.

As underdogs, any fan around the world without an association to either the New England Patriots, or Philadelphia’s rivals, was rooting for the Eagles – perhaps more in hope than expectation. I wanted the Eagles to win, but in my head I half expected Patriots domination and the Brady-Belichick partnership to set a new record for Super Bowl wins as a coach and quarter-back combo. In the preceding week when the Patriots came from behind to beat the resurgent Jacksonville Jaguars, although the Jags led from the off and gave themselves a relatively healthy leading at the end of the first half, there was something inevitable about Brady getting the job done to come from behind to win (albeit with the assistance of the officials, stopping the Jags from a potential pick six by blowing the whistle too early). My wife said she hated the fact that the inevitable always seems to happen when it comes to the Patriots, and that it didn’t seem fair that they were able to keep doing it. I felt it my duty to remind her that as she is a Manchester United fan, this is what every other football fan in England felt throughout the 90’s and the 00’s – that feeling that United would always come back to win a game late on, and usually would get some assistance from the officials. Looking from the outside in, I hope she saw and felt my pain for the last two and a half decades. In my eyes, the Patriots have been the Manchester United of the Alex Ferguson era – conquering all in front of them with a swagger and a confidence that just makes supporters of other clubs hate them more. If the Patriots where the Manchester United in this story, the Eagles where something akin to a Leicester City or a Blackburn Rovers – an underdog who had come from nowhere with no-one expecting them to even mount a run in to the Play-offs; they have a talisman in Wentz (Vardy/Shearer), a coach daring to be brave and attacking (Ranieri/Dalglish), and fans hungry for success for a long time (never won the top division before/81 years).

‘Our’ football can learn a lot from the American variation of the game, and I think it needs to before it consumes itself with greed and elitism. The National Football League prides itself on its parity – on ‘any given Sunday’ any team can beat another team (look at this season: the Patriot’s again won the AFC Championship, but lost to the Kansas City Chiefs (who only made the Wild Card week of the Play-offs), the Panthers (also made it to Wild Card week) and the Miami Dolphins (who finished 3rd in the AFC East), whilst being run close by the Texans, the Buccs, the Jets and the Steelers before the post-season) – in a regular season of 17 games, they lost almost a fifth of their games. No team in the NFL has gone a full season unbeaten since the 1972 Miami Dolphins who are the only team in history to go the whole season and post-season unbeaten. Look at the Super Bowl finalists for the last ten years: 14 different finalists (out of a possible 20). So how do they keep the playing field so level, and what football learn from this?

1. The Draft

The NFL draft ensures that the worse performing team in the league gets the first/best pick of the eligible college football players that year. Each teams position in the draft is determined by their final standing the previous year – so for the 2018 draft, the Cleveland Browns will pick first (again), and the Philadelphia Eagles will pick last each round. There are currently seven rounds, and the draft is undertaken over a weekend. The College players don’t really get a say in where they go, but that is accepted, as they have ‘made it’, they have beaten the odds to get signed for a team in the NFL. There are occasions where the order is changed and a team may ‘trade up’ by offering a team in a higher draft place a player or future draft pick in exchange for their pick in a certain round; if there is a player a team has identified as key to their development, it is a small price to pay for the better pick. Interestingly during the 2017-18 season the Dolphins traded star Running Back Jay Ajayi for a 4th round pick – a deal seen as somewhat bizarre given how good Ajayi has been for the last couple of seasons given the low round of the pick, potentially even more bizarre now he will have a Super Bowl ring on his finger. If a player isn’t selected during the Draft rounds they become an un-drafted free agent and can sign with any team who makes them an offer – the player can’t return to College though. Players drafted through this process are known as “Rookies” and they don’t command the fees the seasoned pro’s do – that said the league minimum paid $435,000 for the Rookie Season; it sounds like a lot compared to an every day job, but consider that Alex Smith’s recent move from the Chiefs to the Redskins will see him pick up an average of $23.5m a year over four years.

The Draft system wouldn’t work in our football as we don’t operate a College system for player development and recruitment – footballers are often signed to teams from a young age and they develop and either make the first team or are sold on; there isn’t an organised ‘talent-pool’ as such where players can be picked from to give the worst team the best player. What the Draft does do is ensure that transfer fees aren’t a barrier to team development through player acquisition. By the rules, the worst team gets the theoretical best player – in football, the worst team would commonly be the poorest team, and as such not able to afford the best players, whatever age or stage of development. Think Theo Walcott leaving Arsenal aged 16 and going to Tranmere – it just wouldn’t happen.

What also isn’t conducive to the Draft system is the geography of the Football game – it is played all around the world, with an open market for players sales and recruitment. The logistics of a world-wide draft would be mind-boggling, not to mention the algorithms for working out what place pick each team should have.

However, looking specifically at the UK, there are a lot of players who, at the end of their YTS contracts, are tossed on the scrapheap and left to fend for themselves in the real world, often with nothing more than GCSEs. Soccer camps and systems like the Glenn Hoddle Academy are aimed at getting former football scholars back in to professional football after being released. There are good footballers being lost this way, maybe a Draft-like system can be adopted to try and get these players new clubs. Consider this: an NFL Combine-type event is held for all the players to showcase their skills in a range of areas during a week; at the end of the week the teams in the football pyramid are placed in order of worst to best (from say Conference level to Championship) and they can pick through a number of rounds – if a team doesn’t like the look of anyone they can decline to pick. Wages could be set at capped levels for each round of the Draft. I’m sure the players themselves would relish the chance to show what they can do and get a new club; and the clubs get a chance to scout youngsters and sign them up for agreed wages – win win.

2. Transfer Fees and Salary Caps

The NFL (and NBA) do not operate a system whereby players are transferred for vast (or any) sums of money. Instead, they are either traded for another player or a Draft pick, or their contract runs down and they are free to join whoever they like (an unrestricted free agent). In some instances, a players contract may run down but they may then be given the ‘Franchise Tag’ – the tag binds a player to the team for one more year if certain conditions are met; each team only has one ‘Franchise Tag’ – this is often used to extend the bargaining period for new contracts. An “exclusive” franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams. The player’s team has all the negotiating rights to the exclusive player. A “non-exclusive” franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five cap hits at the player’s position for the previous five years applied to the current salary cap, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A non-exclusive franchise player may negotiate with other NFL teams, but if the player signs an offer sheet from another team, the original team has a right to match the terms of that offer, or if it does not match the offer and thus loses the player, is entitled to receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

This approach ensures that no team can dominate the market by paying extortionate transfer fees which rule other teams out of potential deals. This is further supported with the ‘Salary Cap’ which every team is subject to. In a nutshell, this is a cap set by the Collective Bargaining Agreement of the league, which all the teams must stay within – if a team violates the cap rules, they could be fined up to $5m for each violation, contracts may be cancelled and/or draft picks lost. There is a also a salary floor to go with the cap. Both the cap and the floor are adjusted annually based on the league’s revenues, and as such they have increased year upon year. Each season all teams combined must spend on average 95 percent of the cap or more on salaries. If the league doesn’t reach this limit, it must pay the players the remaining amount. The Salary Cap for 2017 was set at $167m, for 2018 it will be around the $178m mark. Cap space in conjunction with player recruitment needs (e.g. key positions needing to be filled) dictates how much a bargaining power a team has to sign free agents or in salary discussions as part of trades; the greater the cap space, the more you can spend on a player (think Alex Smith going to the Redskins – this represents a big chunk of their cap space). On the other hand, think about Kirk Cousins – he was a Franchise Tag player who will likely now be released as Smith arrives, but he is seen as a more than competent quarter-back, so his options may very well be linked to who needs a quarter-back and who has cap space.

So, although you don’t see extortionate transfer fees, it does potentially lead to massive contracts for some players, potentially creating disharmony in dressing rooms. However, it does keep the playing field level, as no matter the spending power of the owner or chair-person, they are restricted to the Salary Cap and Floor, which is the same for every team. The FA and UEFA tried to do something similar with Financial Fair Play (FFP) but the richer teams just found a way around this as it was aligned to club earnings rather than a line in the sand for all the teams in the league; if anything this only served to further stretch the gap between the haves and the have nots. The current landscape in England is that the clubs at the top of the league are pretty much the richest clubs (Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea) and the teams at the bottom are the poorest – what this is creating is almost leagues within leagues, as the richer clubs only pull further and further away from the rest of the league, and from the normal world experienced by the fans.

Is a Salary Cap the way forward? In my opinion, yes. In the Premier League, the Championship, and Leagues 1 and 2 to an extent, the income of the majority of clubs is dictated by the TV money combined with the wealth of the owner – if you have the wealthiest owner, you can spend the most money on the best players which will mean you make the Champions League every year, stay in the Premier League, get richer and further pull away from the poorer sides, creating more disparity and less competition (in theory). We are at a tipping point now in football where we can go two ways – we can stick to the norm and allow the richer clubs to get richer and move further and further away from the rest of the sides in the division and potentially country, towards what seems an inevitable European Super League; or we can do something about it now and look at ways to keep the spirit of competition alive by restricting either transfer spending or wage spending, or both. Look at the Premier League this year, Manchester City have spent a small fortune on what was already an expensive side, and surprise surprise they are running away with the league. If we don’t stop cap spending the game is going to get further and further away from those who love it.

The next TV deal is around the corner and it is likely the cost of the TV rights will again go up, meaning more money for teams to keep paying the exorbitant transfer fees and wages. And although on the surface it looks like it makes our league better, does it actually? Look at this way, TV company’s have to pay more money for the games, who foots that bill? The supporter with their subscriptions. The cost of transfers and wages go up – yes TV money helps pay for this, but who else pays? Supporters in the cost of their tickets, day out at the ground and merchandise. As players and clubs get richer, the supporters who are the lifeblood of the game get poorer. We now have a Premier League which is actually a top 6 and then everyone else, this isn’t good for competition.

Do transfer fees really mean anything these days? As the numbers get more and more obscene, there looks to be no limit on what a player can be transferred for, and does it really matter for the clubs paying the money? They can afford it and more so what is the point of the transfer fee? In the last transfer window some of the biggest deals were done outside of transfer fees with Sanchez and Mkhitaryan moving without fees but for extravagant wages. On the flip side, do contracts really mean that much, with players well known for signing a new four year deal only to leave before the end of the next transfer window. Would there be something to be said for getting rid of transfer fees (similar to the NFL) and basing player movements on contract expiries and trades? It would put more emphasis on the contracts players sign and make them think twice before signing somewhere for the sake of it when they may actually already be eyeing up a move elsewhere. Add in a salary cap for each division and you could quickly bring the game more in line with the common man, whilst also preventing some clubs from over-spending and finding themselves in financial trouble, and stop the rich clubs from spending their way to glory.

3. Man of the Year

To follow on from the point of footballers being more detached from the real-world with the money they earn and spend, the NFL has the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. This is an award presented annually by the NFL to honour a player’s volunteer work and charity work, as well as their excellence on the field. Each year the winner is selected from 32 nominees from the 32 different teams. Wouldn’t it be good to see some of the best players in the Premier League go the extra mile for charity and see some recognition for it, surely it would make them more relate-able to the average football fan?

The last thing Football can learn from the NFL is with regards to video referees and the impending introduction of VAR in to the beautiful game. Yes, in NFL it used to confirm if a touchdown should stand or not, but the players don’t like it and it slows the game down massively, in some circumstances to the point that a touchdown is scored and a team cannot celebrate for 3-4 minutes until it’s been confirmed by people watching the game thousands of miles away. Although what they do well with their video referees is display the footage to all in the stadium so they can see what is being reviewed and can better understand the final call. By not having this feature in football often means the fans at the game are left in the dark with regards to what is actually happening and what is being reviewed, and why the eventual decision is given; yet another way that the armchair fan benefits when the fan at the ground doesn’t.

The NFL and the English Football are two completely different sports in more ways than one, but at the same time there are lessons to be learnt from our American counterparts to ensure we don’t lose the game we love and to ensure we can keep it competitive – now more than ever we need to look at what we can do to keep the Premier League competitive without the risk of crippling and destroying clubs.

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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.

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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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