Thursday, 22 November 2012

Chelsea, Lightning won't strike twice

I took my daughter to the cinema last sunday to see  MADAGASCAR 3. Watching the movie, I was struck me by the absurdity of the plot. However, the characters were pretty humorous, which made for  the desired entertainment  in a movie of such nature.
There is something about the news of Roberto Di Matteo's sacking, and the context of the long history of managerial dismissals at Chelsea under Roman Abramovic that brings  Madagascar 3 to mind. In their case, it's becoming ludicrous,  and a turn-off.  Folks say, it's soccer, and sackings like this at a big ambitious  club is part of the game. Such comments or thoughts lack intellectual gravitas. If it's an emotional whim,  it's primal and depraved. It's record breaking stupidity for a club to spend £90 million in eight years as compensation for  firing managers that they gleefully employed. Perhaps, somebody  ought to tell someone to redefine their objectives because it is fast becoming impractical and outlandish. Inventing another game to suit their tastes seems more probable than what they set out to achieve going down this route.

REBRAND : One could visit a restaurant and request the best vintage wine and get it. With soccer,  it's a different reality. It's not about requests, it's a contest. Let's walk the story back just over a year ago : Chelsea paid in the region of £ 10 million to Porto to secure supposedly the brightest young coach in Europe - Andreas Villas Boas. His task, or as Chelsea requested,  the new manager was to revamp the squad, play entertainingly, and win trophies. Chelsea wanted a shift from the tedious style they played. The young coach got lost in the impossible route to achieving those lop-sided objectives, got distracted, and sacked as a  consequence. The manager was fine. But there was something wrong with the task he was handed. In comes Roberto Di Matteo, who amalgamated the squad, got them playing pragmatically, and achieved the most spectacular of successes by winning the FA cup and the elusive champions league. That was a monumental feat given the team was all over the map before he took charge. 

Read : Jose, the blues are coming to get you

The thirst for a manager who sprinkles gold dust did not abate with Di Matteo's amazing triumphs. So evident was the club owner's hesitation to hand him the job full time even after his accomplishments, that it took the fans' outcry to sway him, and apparently grudgingly, to make Di Matteo Team Boss full time

Read, Roman, do not look past Robbie

A WORK IN PROGRESS :  I am of the opinion that Roberto Di Matteo's  work on the Chelsea Version 2.0 project was going in the right direction.  He had established the fundamentals of an exciting and attacking team employing the 4-2-3-1 formation. The trio of Oscar, Hazard, and Mata gave us a very clear indication of their attacking potential ; and Di Matteo used Lampard, Obi , and Ramires astutely as formidable anchor men in midfield. The squad is united and content, and individually there was never that sort of alarming deep in form or performance ; and that tells a reasonable observer the manager was doing a good job with the transition, performance, and results. Yes, a few results had not gone their way, and John Terry's suspension,  and subsequent injury weakened the team somewhat. On the whole, there was no need to initiate pressing the panic button. But this is the view from the rational school of thought. Unfortunately, Chelsea use warped standards of measurement, typically void of conventional wisdom when it comes to hiring and firing managers. Therein lies the crux of this insane syndrome they suffer from.

WEAKNESS: Captain John Terry missed most of the games they lost this season, and the pairing of David Luis  and Gary Cahill  crystalizes the problems they have as an alternative defensive pairing. These two are far from complimentary as a unit. Was it not obvious they ought to strengthen in that area  ? The choice of spending vast sums on attacking talent was more alluring. Who builds a team like that ? Then there is the goal scoring problem that seems to have been ducked in terms of finding another top class marksman  The owner  paid the outrageous sum of £50 million to Liverpool for a striker on the decline, and struggling for confidence after injuries. Drogba was made to be his hinderance.... off Drogba went to China, and Fernando Torres still has not found his groove. They were shy to confront the reality : "  Fernando can score goals, we do not need another striker "..... I imagine was the conclusion.  Waste of money,  scarce little football sense - that's Chelsea's world of heresy.  Rather than venting fury on managers, The owner of the club need to send the heads of his advisers for examination. The entire plan involving player purchase, style of play, and ambition is haphazard  and lacking in truth and credibility. It's lie that carries a siren

Read : Why Chelsea  shall fly into strong headwinds

THE BENITEZ OPTION : Here we go again, the new half cooked plan is to re-unite Fernando Torres with Rafa Benitez, and the magic cure is found. One imbecilic decision to another. Benitez got sacked from his last two jobs at Liverpool and Inter Milan respectively ; and the latter he joined as European  and Italian League champions. He proceeded to make a complete mess of events there in the six months he managed them. If Chelsea really want to play attractive Football, Benitez has a  CV that is not compatible with their illusions of playing the game so beautifully. No, I am mistaken, it's another in the series of stop-gap measures, or an interim manager as they are called ; except that Chelsea would expect lightning to strike twice, and Rafa Benitez goes on to win the League, FA cup, and the lot.  How deluded !  Just another retrogressive step. 

BOUNCE : No matter what happens, Roberto Di Matteo leaves with his head held high. He carried himself with dignity and honour always.  He will enjoy the bounce from his achievements of last season for a long time to come. Chelsea have unwittingly enhanced his career, education,  and name recognition. Not only that, he came across as a very intelligent manager, tactically clued-on, and very intellectual at post match conferences. For a guy who had not much experience managing a big club, to me,  he barely put a foot wrong in his short time in charge. His eyes always burned bright, and he chewed enthusiastically from the touch line. I sensed a man strong on the inside, and powerful in his convictions, hence i do not shed a tear for him. In fact, he is lucky to have left the mad house, and the extra cash to take away ain't that bad too.
This is not exactly a sad ending for Di Matteo.  He joined Chelsea as an assistant manager, never in his wildest dreams would he have thought he would manage Chelsea to winning that historic champions league final in Munich last May. No sacking can take take that off his CV, and i am sure he is going to land on both feet when he takes his next job.
Chelsea bifurcate into another chapter of their infantile and expensive  fantasy. Benitez keeps fellow spaniard Pep Guardiola's seat warm, or does he stake a claim to the hot seat ? There are times when money cannot purchase all kinds of fantasy and fun, simply because it's not practical. There is a limit to everything, and even though football is brilliant and sometimes unpredictable, it's dynamics never defies established wisdom.

Monday, 19 November 2012


One Player who caught my eye this weekend is Norwich City and Scottish International Robert Snodgrass. He certainly won't be the cup of tea of most observers, but here is a very good player. Tremendous in technical ability playing on either flanks ; smooth in getting his team mates into the game;  delicious with his elegance and poise on the ball. I love to watch graceful players. Some times, they pop up at unfashionable Clubs, and fans only get to take them seriously when they move on to a bigger team, which is  a travesty.  Spare a thought for many of this shtick. Cast your mind to many journeymen players lapping it under the umbrella of a big club !

SWEDEN VS ENGLAND :  I read last week a suggestion from former German International Dietmar Hamann, England need be cautious with the inclusion of Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Zaha. His take is that England should not try to take advantage of the ambiguity surrounding the international futures of these two players :

" if Sterling and Zaha wanted to play for other nations, then let them. I don't think England 
   should lower themselves ( to ) calling players up to stop them playing international
   football elsewhere "

Read Raheem Sterling - A hypothesis for England

I find Hamann's comments patronizing and ill judged, if the quotes attributed to him are correct in context, because primarily, every individual is free. The decision on which nation a player commits to play for when he is eligible  for dual or multiple nations, is a tricky one no doubt, and there surely would be an element of persuading by the respective national  soccer governing bodies. Both lads came to England when they were practically infants, and would no doubt have gained English citizenship; both have definitely represented England at age grade levels, so getting them to play for England at senior level for the reasons Dietmar Hamann suggests is a misnomer. The FA in fact should do a lot more in this area, making sure the best soccer talents who are qualified to represent England end up doing so. The objective is to get the best possible tools at the disposal of the England manager. I'd like to see more follow the footsteps of Danny Welbeck, and the afore mentioned Sterling and Zaha. 

Roy Hodgson earns my praise for using these friendly games to blood new players. Too often in the past, managers were too shy to use friendly matches to experiment wisely. Roy Hodgson gave debuts to six players, starting with three ( Sterling, Osman, and Caulker ) I do not think there will be an England future for Ryan Shawcross and Leon Osman, but that is another matter. England needs gifted players, and a wider bunch to pick from. I am also pleased he has persevered with Daniel Sturridge in his squad. I am a big fan of Daniel Sturridge, and i believe with the right opportunity, and faith from a manager, this boy will reach the top. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's fourth goal against England was sensational. A sumptuous and technically sublime effort from a player who has not enjoyed the adulation and respect his talent deserves in this country. Yes, he divides opinion, and i guess there are those who cannot stand his prima dona attitude, and that perhaps clouds their judgement of his talent. Ultimately, he is in a class of his own : back to back top scorer in Italy's Serie A ; he has won league titles at Juventus, Inter Milan, and AC Milan,  and do i mention Ajax and Barcelona ?  scored for six different teams in the champions league, and one of only two players in the history of the champions league to deliver four assists in a game. People may choose to talk about his brilliant fourth goal against England, overall, his ability is what freaks me out. He possesses amazing skill for a  big guy, very cerebral, a footballer's  footballer, fuses his team's attacking strategy, opens corridors for other players in attack, drops deep to get the ball, has vision, and his technical repertoire is fearsome. His plays the game on his own terms. His goal on wednesday was reminiscent in context of Maradona's  against England in 1986. Just as the English media were preparing to call Maradona a cheat for his hand ball goal, he scored a second which was a master class, and one of the best goals in the history of the world cup. England Captain Steven Gerrard set the hyperbole rolling by calling Ibrahimovic's fourth goal " the best goal i have ever seen ".  The media latched-on in typical fashion,  almost subscribing to  Gerrard's view. Zlatan  Ibrahimovic was not sold on it, he said :

      " That is the way it is with the English.  If you score against  them, you are good
       if you don't score against them you are not a good player ". 

Dare i say his comments strike a chord a with me. It's called selective prejudice.

" ASSISTANT MANAGERS " : this must be the theme of the weekend, given what is happening at West Brom and Norwich. Give it up for  Steve Clarke and Chris Hughton. 
I wonder if there is a more unspectacular, or selfless manager around than Steve Clarke.  As  an assistant to Jose mourinho,  and Avram Grant at Chelsea ; and to Gianfranco Zola at West Ham, and Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool, it would have been easy to conclude he was too timid to handle the big time and the spot light. There is nothing better than a man who does it his own way, and not shy to be a maverick. In many ways, Steve Clarke still has the demeanor of an assistant manager, except that after 12 games, unfashionable West Brom are fourth in the premier league, one point behind big spending European Champions Chelsea. Add to that, Steve Clarke's West Brom just beat Chelsea. An attestation to the man's dignity and class, he was not even looking excited at the feat his team had pulled-off in the post match interviews, essentially calling for feets to remain on the ground. I am positive West Brom will finish in the Top 8 this season, mark my words. Steve Clarke's modesty is refreshing and respectable. 

Another unsung hero is Norwich's manager Chris Hughton. A long time assistant at Spurs, sacked alogside Martin Jol in 2007;  he then took the impossible job of managing Newcastle in the championship, and successfully got them back to the premiership. For what ever reason, Mike Ashley pointed him to the exit ; Birmingham came calling, and he got them to the championship play-offs. When Norwich got battered at the beginning of the season, i feared succeeding Paul Lambert might be too much for this born and bred Londoner. It's indeed exciting to see him and his Norwich team doing well - beating Spurs, Arsenal, and now Man United so far this season. Watching them against United on saturday, Norwich look a really harnessed team, a confluence of hard work and persistent application in all areas of the pitch.

I have often thought, sometimes managers rush to big time jobs too soon; or young managers fail to finish their apprenticeship before impetuously taking big jobs at big clubs, then facing pressures that become an antithesis to their development.

Read : Martinez not ripe for Anfield.

I am delighted to see these two doing well, and i am rooting for all the unsung heroes working hard behind the scenes, while pompous clowns take all the credit as  "managers". Do not lose your wits folks !!!!

SOFT ON SPARKY : The way the media has handled Mark Hughes'  tenuous reign as manger of QPR lends credence to the theory that they pick winners and losers. Mark Hughes is a favourite son, no doubt. I admired him for his all- action- style as a player, and he had considerable success at Blackburn Rover, Manchester  City and Fulham as manager,  but i was never going to buy into the story line he cooked-up with Tony Fernandes - which involved recruiting twelve new players after beating the drop marginally last season. Those muppets got from Lord knows where, most have envisaged they were coming to England to play for London's version of  " Manchester City ". Gullible players, fans, and owner Tony Fernandes are reaping what they have sown.  The policy of throwing money at the relegation trap door is not going to work for QPR because they have not invested in the right calibre and make of players ; they signed too many and got rid of too many all at once ; and the manager does not have the nous, nor experience at team building, how much more one at supersonic speed.  I am sorry, but the manager has to take the blame for this mess.  The media and most of the fans think it's the players -  greedy and could not care less about the club.  I  would say QPR and Mark Hughes have overestimated. The media ought to get a grip of reality and remember Sparky can take it on the chin when it's the truth. That's why we loved him in the first place.

THE NORTH LONDON DERBY :  The universal verdict seems to be that Spurs lost to Arsenal because Emmanuel Adebayor got sent off after nineteen minutes. That's a load of fallacy. I have another version of the narrative. Spurs lost because they were hustled into submission in the last twenty minutes of the first half. They exhibited a bewildering mental frailty after Adebayor got sent off,  rather than rising to the occasion when they already had the lead. Their task was clear cut - hold on : instead they lost traction,  and that is the reason they lost the derby. Furthermore, Manager Andreas Villas Boas opted to play  3-4-2  with his ten men. They say discretion is a better part of valour, and trying to chase the game exposed his three defenders evermore. I would have opted to play tight for the second half, and stem the bleeding, rather than fighting with gaping wounds.  As for Adebayor, you would have thought  he has learnt his lessons returning to the Emirates. Adebayor should jettison this idea he has a point to prove to

Read: Adebayor must reset priorities 

Arsenal fans. It's a failed theory, and  mendacious.  His transfer to Man city made him a richer man, and  a choice he made.  He has been telling us how he plays with " passion ".  The foot high challenge he made that earned him a red card made no sense in footballing terms, because he was only going to impact the ball in such a way to send it back into danger - to his own half, so he need not have made a move / challenge in the first place. I wish for the sake of common sense he gets his act together.

For Arsenal, their football is lacking conviction and direction. Having said that, i believe they will mount a surprise push for the championship when they settle down in the next few weeks. It's pretty obvious there is competing ideas in the team's attacking tactical approach. They have to go 50 - 50 in terms of their indulgence in ball possession and passing ; and setting up Olivier Giroud through crosses as we saw happen a lot against Spurs. Once a balance is attained, and Gervinho returns, Arsenal will shoot up to title contenders - watch. The players sorted matters out when Spurs went down to ten men. There was a reaction that was spontaneous and organic in that last twenty minutes of the first half that drives a team to greater heights. The spear head of that was Santi Carzola. He drove the team on, and gutted Spurs as i predicted about his talents. This guy is a super player on his day, and would be one of the best Arsenal players of all time. 
Read : Santi Carzola : Even better than Fabregas

Not since Thierry Henry have i seen an Arsenal player play in attack with an edge. 

Chelsea, Man United, and Man City have not sustained any form or desire to be champions. Watch out,  Arsenal are going to surprise you soon.