Tag Archives: Premier League

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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Europe to the brink of League 1 in 10 years

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Ten years ago this weekend, Blackburn took on Portsmouth in the first game of the 2006-07 Premier League season. Their sixth season in the top tier following promotion from the Football League First Division, after only a two year stay in the second tier. Although the opening day of the season saw a 3-0 defeat away at (ironically) Portsmouth, there was a sense of optimism at the club following the summer signings of South Africa’s leading all-time goal scorer Benni McCarthy, former Champions League finalist Shabani Nonda, and the Dutch defender Andre Ooijer. The previous season Blackburn had finished the previous season in 6th place behind only Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham.

Fast forward 10 years and in the same weekend, Blackburn lie bottom of the Championship, drawing 2-2 with newly promoted Burton Albion (a team who ten years ago where in the Football Conference), following three defeats to Norwich, newly promoted local rivals Wigan, and Cardiff – the only team on 1 point in the division.

Back in 2006-07 there was a sense of excitement around the football team – throughout the summer months I would keep a close eye on Skysports and the local and national media to see who potential comings and goings would be, prophesising about who would be a good fit or who could be the biggest name we could attract. That summer we signed Benni McCarthy of the best European striker of the previous 5 years, a Champions League winner. As well as looking at who we could bring in, there was always the worry that key players could be snapped up by the bigger clubs – the previous season had seen brilliant performances from the likes of David ‘the new Beckham’ Bentley, Morten Gamst Pedersen and Brett Emerton, all players who had been linked with moves away – but we had managed to hold on to them.

In 2016-17 times have changed somewhat. The attendance against Burton yesterday was 10,356 – the lowest league attendance at Ewood Park since the month after Kenny Dalglish took charge in October 1991 when Rovers were in the old Division Two; this includes the period when Ewood Park was being redeveloped. Of those 10,356 it could be argued that only around 10-20% showed any sort of emotion when Burton twice equalised. Rather than the anger, disappointment and want to apportion blame that has followed many a goal conceded, there was a sense of inevitability and acceptance. A sense that it was bound to happen and that the supporters half expected it. You could call it a lack of passion, but these supporters have been through a lot in the last 5 years, never mind the last ten. In the space of 5 years, Blackburn Rovers have gone from being a mid-to-top-table Premiership club, well run, regularly attracting crowds of 20,000+ and contending in Europe – to a side who in allegedly hundreds of millions of pounds of debt; attendances struggling to break the 13,000 mark; hunting for free transfers; and on their 6th manager in 5 years (that including a two and a half year stint from Gary Bowyer).

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Attendances have shrunk significantly over the past 5 years

In the early 2000’s Blackburn were seen as the shining light of how to run a top division team in a small town without building up masses and masses of debt. They never spent beyond their means yet always outperformed where there spending on transfers and wages should have placed them. This was in no small part down to the Chairman/Chief Executive John Williams.

Now instead of spending the summer exciting/worrying about potential new players in and stars leaving, there is no checking of websites or media outlets, only the hope that we have a squad of players come the first day of the season with the ability to compete. All hopes are placed in finding a player on a free transfer who has dropped down the leagues but has the talent to get back to the top, or in loan deals bringing in players of higher quality looking to show their ability to their parent clubs. The turnover of players in five years has been incredible; even from the starting line up from the first game of the season the defence featured only one player, the captain Jason Lowe. Even when players leave the club now there is a sense of acceptance that we probably need the money to pay off debt or to reduce the wage bill; but we have been saying this for a number of years now, yet we are still a selling club who has to balance the books and pay off the debt – surely there can’t be many players left at the club on Premier League wages, or who could potentially generate a big transfer fee (by big I mean more than £2.5m).

In the last five years Blackburn have sold (reported fees):

  • Phil Jones (£22m)
  • Nikola Kalinic (£7m)
  • Yakubu (£1m)
  • Junior Hoilett (£4m)
  • Steven Nzonzi (£4m)
  • Martin Olsson (£2m)
  • Mauro Formica (£0.6m)
  • Alan Judge (£0.35m)
  • Tom Cairney (£3.5m)
  • Josh King (£2m)
  • Rudy Gestede (£6m)
  • Marcus Olsson (£1m)
  • Jordan Rhodes (£9m)
  • Grant Hanley (£6m)

Total Monies raised: £68.45m

And signed (reported fees):

  • David Goodwillie (£2.8m)
  • Radosav Petrovic (£2.7m)
  • Simon Vukcevic (£2m)
  • Yakubu (£1.5m)
  • Scott Dann (£8m)
  • Jordan Slew (£1m)
  • Leon Best (£3m)
  • Dickson Etuhu (£1.5m)
  • Jordan Rhodes (£8m)
  • Corry Evans (£0.6m)
  • Ben Marshall (£1m)
  • Shane Duffy (£0.4m)

Total monies out/spent = £32.5m

‘The Venkys’ bought a 99.9% stake in Blackburn Rovers in November 2010 spending £23m on the deal and taking on around £20m of the clubs debt. In its most simplistic form, they spend £43m on buying the club and debt; then have spent £32.5m on transfers (total spending = £75.5m) and raised £68.45m from transfers – the visible profit and loss from this stands at -£7.05m, arguably they could have more than halved the debt they took on board. However, as I say, this is only looking at the simple figures of transfers, and only those which we know the value of – what this doesn’t take in to account is the money spent on players wages, staff and operating costs, and agents fees. As of June this year (2016), the Lancashire Telegraph reported that although losses had improved by almost £25m, the debt still stood at £104.2m (these are the figures for the 2014-15 season). So this begs the question, where has the other £97m debt come from? A relatively large percentage of this will have arisen from wages and operating costs which aren’t covered by ticket sales, especially given the decrease in attendances – but the question needs to be asked, why are players on wages which aren’t aligned to a sustainable model for income against expenditure (i.e. keeping the amount which isn’t covered by season tickets as low as possible), especially given that the club are in the second tier and haven’t mounted a serious promotion challenge since relegation? Are they overpaid for their level of performances? If this is the case, who has agreed these deals? This brings us on to two key points in the demise of Blackburn Rovers – who is actually running the club day to day and approving transfers and wages for players who clearly aren’t of the standard required (the same could be said of >80% of the previous 6 managers)? And why have such astronomical amounts been paid to footballers’ agents in these deals?

I said earlier that there was arguably a lack of passion at Ewood Park when the opposition scores – let me clarify this: there is no lack of passion. What has happened at Ewood is that from the months after the Venkys bought the club, the supporters have known something wasn’t quite right. The sacking of Sam Allardyce was the start of this; followed by the appointment of a little known coach as manager; followed by the new improved contracts offered to key players who then mysteriously became injured and released/sold, only to make a Lazarus-like recovery; followed by the resignation of senior members of the clubs hierarchy (John Williams et al) as they didn’t feel they were being consulted or used appropriately given their previous experience and successes. This all culminated in a number of protests at Ewood before, during and after games mainly aimed at the frustrations and lack of confidence in the Manager – this gained national press for a while, but soon it became old news, and many of the supporters were criticised for wanting an inexperienced manager out before the club was relegated – eventually, the inevitable happened and Blackburn were relegated, with a game to spare. Again the fans called for the Manager to go, but unbelievably he kept his job, and was given vast amounts of money to spend (which evidently the club couldn’t afford).  Eventually Kean resigned and so commenced a further period of uncertainty and backroom hi-jinks as Blackburn got through two managers in the space of four and a half months as backroom staff wrestled for control and authority – eventually resulting in a £2.25m pay-off to Berg. When Michael Appleton was sacked in March 2013, a second relegation in as many seasons looked a likely outcome to the season, fortunately reserve team coach Gary Bowyer stepped up and ensured survival, and was then given the job for a further 2 full seasons. During Bowyer’s time in charge he was forced to hunt for free transfers and loan signings whilst having to sell his best players, and maintain a team capable of challenging for the top 6 – there were times during this period that players would appear on the pitch and supporter’s would have no idea who they, were they came from or what to expect, only for them to be released or called back to parent clubs shortly afterwards, there seemed to be an ever-revolving door of players coming in and out. Bowyer was sacked part way through the 2015-16 season as the club sat in mid-table despite having sold key squad members. Paul Lambert was given the job and promptly advised that Jordan Rhodes would be sold. Performances towards the end of the season were lacklustre and poor, and at times relegation was again a possibility – at the end of the season Lambert advised he would be leaving in the summer, rumoured due to be because of unfulfilled promises. Blackburn started the 2016-17 season with former Burnley, Bolton, Wigan and Houston Dynamo’s manager Owen Coyle in charge – much to the disappointment of fans. Never has a former Burnley manager then managed Blackburn.

Blackburn fans aren’t a wanting or overly expectant bunch. They are under no illusions that they should be battling for the top 6 of the Premier League at the minute, or arguably the top 6 of the Championship. All they are looking for is some hope. Hope that maybe things will get better; maybe it will be a long journey to get back to where they were 10 years ago and maybe it will take twice as long as that to do it, but they would be happy to know that there was a journey and not just the constant disappointment and farce that is the running of the club at the minute. The owners, Venkys, haven’t been seen at the club for years and very rarely speak to the media about the club or to calm fans fears. I am a lifelong supporter and season ticket holder and I couldn’t even tell you who our Chairman or Chief Executive is, or if we even have one. I don’t know what the owners expectations are for the season, next season or if they even have a 5 year plan. What I do know is that if I had invested £43m in to a football club, I would at least go and watch them in person every once in a while, and try to keep the fans on board and get bums on seats to raise much-needed money. But there is nothing comes from them other than the occasional press release saying they are 100% committed to the club and share the fans frustrations – this isn’t good enough. This summer they proved that they know nothing about English football, fandom or even the local area. To appoint a man who has previously managed the clubs bitterest rivals shows a complete ignorance of the clubs history and a lack of interest in what the fans wanted or definitely didn’t want. This decision will have cost season ticket sales. To further frustrations, after the club lost 4-1 at home on the opening day of the season they decided to jokingly muse that club stalwart Morten Gamst Pedersen may be re-signing, only to then announce that it was a joke and that he was only visiting. Let’s not forget that Pedersen scored some 35 goals in 288 games for the club and stuck with them during times of intense transfer speculation; when the club were relegated to the Championship it was rumoured that some people high up in the club had said he was too old to play at this level – at the time he was one of the best technical players in the squad. In the end he was shown the back door Karabukspor after having been forced to train with the youth development squad for a number of weeks. His bond with the Blackburn fans was shown when he came over to the supporters after a game he hadn’t played in shortly before his move and received rapturous applause. He could definitely still do a job in the side today, 3 years after leaving. For the club to joke that he may be re-signing is absolutely unbelievable and again shows that there is no awareness from the owners/club as to what the supporters are going through.

If I could ask the Blackburn Rovers owners one question, it would be: “What is your end game for the club?” If it was because they loved football, they would be at more games (or at least some games). If it was for the love of the club, they would again be in attendance at games, and they would not have let it get in to its current state. If it was to make money, they have had ample opportunities to sell either upon relegation or upon receipt of the parachute payments before the club was plunged in to debt. Further still, offers have been made which would allow them an exit from the club without it costing them a fortune, or offers which would allow them to be part owners without putting any more money in – but they have rejected both. Is it for the marketing potential for their chicken meat processing business? If so, why isn’t Ewood Park plastered in signs and logos and why isn’t their product sold in the stadium and local vicinity? Surely there is no marketing potential in the Championship to reach an international audience as you can’t buy the product in this country. So what exactly do they want from the club?

There has been a lot of activity from supporters of the club this past week to raise awareness of the current plight of the club and raise questions about previous dealings. In an ideal world this will bring back the national media attention and at least force the Venkys to answer questions about their dealings and intentions, in an ideal world it might start the process of the sale of the club to more competent and interested hands. What I fear is that the same old story will be played out again: the Venkys will release a statement saying they are fully committed to the club and getting back to the Premier League and they are not interested in selling, but will welcome discussions with fans, which will never happen.

If things don’t change, the club is only going one way, further down the ladder to League 1.

At least we have a big screen they can advertise on in League 1.

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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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Poor Premiership football Vs Good Championship Football?

Ask the Chairman/Owner and they will probably opt for the former and take the money, and act blissfully ignorant to the moans and groans of the supporters who they will believe should be happy they are in the top division, and put up with poor quality as a result.

Ask the supporters, and I think their opinion may be split – some fans will be happy to maintain Premier League status and all the trimmings which come with that, at the cost of actual quality football – they may feel that ingredient is provided by the opposition, their team there to provide the fodder which the opposition must use quality and flair to breakdown. Other fans, those who love not the status but the actual playing of the game will probably take the latter. MK Dons are a good example, they know it is unlikely that they could compete at the top level, but that doesn’t stop them getting the ball down and playing football – something which will continue to lead to the develop of young players, who, unlike the club, will progress up the leagues (MK Dons is only an example here, they may well follow their players to the top). It also doesn’t stop their supporters paying their money to watch them play this football, when Premiership FC just down the road are in the top flight but not playing the best of the beautiful game.

To an extent, a shift in style seems to be in progress at Ewood Park – after a poor start to the season, Gary Bowyer seems to have got the new signings playing an attacking free flowing style of football which is resulting in numerous goal scoring opportunities each week, nine of which have been taken in the last two weeks. Judgement was reserved for the first five against 10-man Barnsley, but a comprehensive victory over potential promotion pushers Bolton confirmed that style looks to be on the return to Ewood.

Rewind 5 years to the term of Allardyce and all started brightly, but soon, as results dictated, the style was switched to a more familiar kick and rush – evidenced no better than the missiles launched in to the box from once mercurial Pedersen, making better use of his arms than his undoubtedly talented left foot. At the end of the missile, the centre backs, constantly trudging forward at every opportunity to volley a ball in to the box – at the end of 90 minutes they must have been exhausted; not only that, but by sending them forward, on a number of times left gaps and breaks on for the opposition – counterproductive? Nearly three years on from the sacking of Allardyce, Blackburn fans are still split on whether he was good or bad for the club – in my mind, a question which is aligned well to the question of poor top level football or exciting second tier football. Don’t get me wrong, without Allardyce to steer the ship clear of relegation following Paul Ince’s substitute lottery tenure at the helm, we would have been condemned to the second tier 3 years earlier – but at the same time, would we have had to suffer 3 years of Saturday sore neck day? West Ham United fans may argue that Big Sam is playing football at Upton Park, but I offer them this: just wait until the chips are down and a win becomes hard to gain – he will revert to what he knows best to get the points on the board, and changing back does not come quickly.

Last week missile produce Morten Gamst Pedersen left the club for Turkish side Karabukspor, after nine years at the club – during which time he has excited and frustrated fans in equal measures (one week he would score a world class freekick or a brace at Manchester United – the next he would miss a header at point blank range in the last minute of an FA Cup semi-final, or hit a one-man wall whilst trying to deliver a freekick from 40 yards out). However, one thing cannot be argued about Pedersen, he has always given 100%, no matter where the managers have played, how much the crowd have got on his back, or whether the global advisor has sent him for his pension; and after game he has played in a Blackburn Rovers shirt, he has always clapped the crowd off the pitch. He leaves the club one of us, a supporter, and he leaves us with many great memories (without him the season review and goal of the season compilations between 2004-13 would have been a much tougher challenge to watch again). It is criminal that he has been forced to leave the club one year away from meeting his testimonial anniversary, but it is a measure of the man and the player that even though he hasn’t been involved this season, he has still trained and asked to play in the youth development squad just to get some game-time, and the fact he has moved for football rather than clinging on to a wage at Ewood perhaps highlights he still has something to offer, and that his support of the club extends beyond his back pocket.
Another player to leave the club this week was Gael Givet – another player who has been bruised and battered whilst donning the blue and white shirt, and another player who you could never question the commitment of. Again it is sad to see him go as with his and Pedersen’s departures, the last remaining memories of the relative glory days of Graeme Souness and Mark Hughes, and the stability of Allardyce are gone (Dunn remains, but his is a different circumstance altogether – a local lad scoring an equaliser to maintain a 34 year long unbeaten run against your rivals, and you can hang around for as long as you want!) – but change isn’t always a bad thing.

There departures mark the end of the Souness/Hughes/Allardyce, but they also, to an extent, mark the end of the Steve Kean era. Of the squad at Ewood now, only Robinson, Dann and Rochina remain of Kean’s main signings, if you can call them ‘his’ signings, and these are probably the best of those he brought in. What this change in personnel does symbolise is almost an acceptance of the need for change to return to the Premier League. During Kean’s leadership the club was negative in every way, the football was poor, and there was an acceptance of failure before a ball was even kicked. What Bowyer has done by bringing new young blood in to the team is change the atmosphere around the club, arguably along with expectations. No longer is the club expected to challenging for the Championship title, most supporters would be over the moon with the play-offs. Blackburn Fans accept that times and tides are shifting and that with the young squad we have, there is the potential to develop a team to play football the proper way, and also do it in a financially sound way. Combine this with a group of players who seemingly know no fear and want to get forward at every opportunity, and you have every chance of making the top 6. In the last two games, Blackburn have played attacking football with wingers and full backs overlapping – growing in confidence with every attack.

Now that the confidence has grown, Rhodes has stayed through the window, it is a shame that there is a two week break before the Burnley game. Ideally, given the form of the team, Blackburn would’ve liked the game last Sunday after the Bolton game – but they will have to wait and let the nerves stew. The one worry for Blackburn is the same thing that is making them optimistic about the future – youth. There a number of players in the team now under 23 (the average age of the squad) who will never have played in a local derby, and if they have, perhaps not one as fierce as this; and there are a number of these players maybe not familiar with the rivalry and what it means to the local area – it is the job of the likes of Dunn, Dann, Lowe and Kean (Jake, not Steve) to help Bowyer get the importance across to the others. Two men I would want in that changing room come the 14th September, playing or not playing, would be Pedersen and Givet. But times have changed, and the young pretenders will learn themselves soon enough.

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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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