About Me

Hi I'm Tom, a 24 year sports fan. I like almost all sports but in particular football, and in particular Chelsea FC. Other favourites are F1, golf, rugby union and cricket. In this blog I will attempt to cover any football topics that tickle my fancy including reviews of the past weeks action and any big stories, and I will try to be as un-biased as I possibly can (although we all know how hard this is when talking about your own team!). It is not my intention to provide updates on football news as this is readily available, but rather to provide some in depth review of the English Premier League (games, players, transfers) as well as praising excellent performances, decisions and games in general. I hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

And then there were three…

Last night Arsenal became the first English side to exit the Champions League, losing on the night 3-1 to Barcelona, meaning an aggregate loss of 4-3. And to be fair, I don’t think that there can be any complaints from Wenger or other Arsenal fans.

Throughout both legs Barcelona were by far the better team and it is testament to how far Arsenal have come over the past year or so that they were always within touching distance. Who knows, if Wenger had a higher calibre player than Bendtner on the bench Arsenal may have stolen the tie on away goals. But, it wasn’t to be.

The main talking point of the night surrounds the controversial manner in which Robin Van Persie was sent off but I have a slightly different opinion to the consensus. First of all I think that it is a very harsh second yellow. Whether rightly or wrongly, not all yellow cards are equal and this certainly didn’t deserve a second yellow. To provide a bit of context, a yellow card for kicking the ball away is appropriate, in my mind at least, if a team commits a foul and then kicks the ball away, thus preventing the other team taking a quick free kick. That is disruptive to the flow of the game, takes away the advantage unfairly from the attacking team and is rightly punished. In the instance of Van Persie last night he took a shot towards the goal and it was all pretty innocuous. However, to say that he didn’t hear the whistle and protest total innocence is, for me, a step too far. Firstly, all the other players heard the whistle throughout the game so why not in this instance. I certainly don’t think that 85-odd thousand Barca fans were that excited about him receiving the ball and it would be na├»ve to suggest that the Arsenal contingent drowned out the whistle. Secondly, Van Persie’s run took him towards the assistant referee and I firmly believe that he knew he was offside as he would have seen the flag go up himself. This is then compounded by the fact that Van Persie took a shot outside of the box with his right foot whilst at a difficult angle. All this adds up to say that he just swung a leg at it when he realised he was offside. That is not to say that I think he deserved to get sent off; far from it. But he knew what was going on and just didn’t expect to be booked.

The two other incidents that I took away fall into the categories of ridiculous and sublime. To cover the former, what was Fabregas doing with that backheel 20 yards out from his own goal?! Did he suddenly think that Barcelona may lay off the relentless pressing for a while? Foolish indeed and it got punished. And how it was punished. The boy Messi is absolute class and that little flick that lifted the ball over Almunia proved it. On first viewing I thought that he had half volleyed the ball and it had rebounded back into his path. No such luck involved here; it was all skill. Messi’s quickness of thought and fleet of foot produced a moment of brilliance that the naked eye took two views to pick up.

When compared to Bendtner’s chance late in the game, it is clear to see that the best side won.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes... and Elbows.

In the build up to the Chelsea vs. Man United game this evening the two stories that seem to be dominating the headlines are Wayne Rooney’s alleged elbow from the weekend and the shooting incident involving Ashley Cole, an air gun and a student on work experience. The question has been asked: should either of them be playing this evening?

First of all, I think that both incidents should be treated completely separately. Let’s take a look first at Wayne Rooney. For me I think that the ref has got this wrong and that it deserved a red card. No questions asked. I guess the interesting point to come out of this is the response of the clubs and the FA. I have blogged before about how outrageous it is that the FA aren’t allowed to hand out further punishment if the ref brandished a yellow card (it point blank refuses to accept that referees are human and equally capable of making mistakes as the rest of us), but in this instance the referee took no action in terms of cards and so the FA had the perfect opportunity to issue the appropriate sanction. It failed to do so. I accept that issues of violent conduct are subjective and that there will be disagreements but I do not think that there will be many football fans up and down the country that can defend what Rooney did.

Secondly, the Ashley Cole story. This one is staggering. I don’t know what it is about the guy but he just can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble. Whether he should be allowed to play this evening or not though is, for me, pretty straightforward. Taking the actual nature of the incident at the moment, what occurred was an example of misconduct at the training ground. The club have decided to reprimand him internally, which looks as though it could be a telling off and a fine equivalent to approximately 2 weeks wages. If the police decide to get involved to investigate whether a crime has been committed, so be it. The point I am trying to make is that it has the square root of nothing to do with football and should be kept as such. If you take into account that a weapon was involved and that someone was hurt then clearly this is a very serious matter, however speculating about what happened won’t get anyone anywhere. What I would say is that if you are carrying a gun around you are solely responsible for it and pointing at someone else is entirely unacceptable. It doesn’t matter if you think it is loaded or not; you may not get a second chance with a firearm. Maybe an appropriate course of action would be to remove any license that Ashley Cole may have (do you even need a license for an air rifle?).

So, in short I think that we are talking about two very serious incidents but two very different incidents and they therefore should be treated as such. One is to do with football and, directly, a game and any punishment should be in line. The other is possibly a criminal matter and as such should be dealt with by the police and the courts. Otherwise it is a private matter that can be dealt with accordingly.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Cup Final Madness

What a mad weekend of football. The headlines will go to Birmingham, specifically the comical fashion that the winning goal was scored. Elsewhere though there were surprises with West Ham scoring 3 against a continuously improving Liverpool side and Wolves laying in a 4-0 thumping of Blackpool, a team that managed to beat Champions League contenders Spurs not so very long ago.

All in all it is turning out to be a very topsy turvy season, yet despite all this the printed press still resort to type by predicting every win or loss as either a season-ender or a platform that a team can “kick on” from. This just hasn’t happened and I genuinely think we are going to have to wait until the very end of the season to see what is what. It looks as though the title is going to go one of two ways, but it looks certain that the ribbons around the trophy at the end of the season are going to bed red.

At the other end of the table, West Ham look as though they are improving, with the added quality of Thomas Hitzlsperger clearly giving them a boost. I think that West Ham will stay up this season but it will be thankful to poor form elsewhere I think. My prediction for the three teams to go down is West Brom, Wigan and Wolves. Wolves will be the closest to surviving and their battle to retain Premiership status will be with West Ham and, I fear, Blackpool. Blackpool, after a wonderful start to the season are now beginning to signs of frailty yet they are still able to pull a result out of the hat, as demonstrated against Spurs.

The fight for a Champions League spot is also hotting up, with my prediction of the top four being United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs. The reason that I think that can be broken down into two parts; the top two places and third/ fourth spot. I believe United will win the title over Arsenal as they have the experience to do so, as well as the points on the board. Arsenal, over the coming weeks, will focus an awful lot of energy on the Champions League clash with Barcelona and this, coupled with the defeat at Wembley yesterday and the injuries to Fabregas and Van Persie, could mean that the struggle domestically. United, if they can get through two big games against Chelsea and Liverpool without losing too many points, will continue to do enough to stay at the top of the table until the season finishes.

As for third and fourth, I think it will be Chelsea followed by Spurs. Chelsea, all but written off for a top four finish as little as a week ago, now have the opportunity to go third if they win their games in hand. I am not saying that this will be the case but the games to go compare favourably to those of Man City and Spurs. City will run Spurs close for the final Champions League position but will drop too many points in games that they should be winning.

The final stage of the season is shaping up to be just as intriguing as the rest of it has been, and one thing that is for certain is that it is definitely too early to write teams off. Things will definitely change between now and the end of the season.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Spurs win butt UEFA show rules are a joke

Yesterday evening a fantastic result from Spurs away from home was marred by ill disciplined incidents both on and off the pitch. Despite winning 1-0 away at the San Siro against a European giant, all of the post-match talk will surround Gattuso’s misdemeanours (twice!) and a horror tackle from Flamini.

For Gattuso there can be no excuse and he will surely be punished appropriately by UEFA. The incident that I would like to focus on however, and the rules that govern the incident, is the tackle of Flamini that caused Vedran Corluka to leave the stadium on crutches. How the referee judged the tackle only to be worthy of a yellow card I will never know. But he did and that, unfortunately, is the end of it. This is the bit that really galls me. The referee made a mistake and UEFA should have the power to go back and retrospectively upgrade the card to a red. Yet the rules, as I understand it, currently state that as the referee has taken action his decision is final. I find this totally absurd. Had he missed it altogether UEFA would have no trouble issuing the red card.

Let’s look at this a little closer. The referee missing the tackle (or indeed the assistant referee) would still be a mistake and UEFA would be able to act on that, so why not in the instance when he judged it wrongly? This assumption that referees are always correct is madness. This situation seems even more straightforward to me when you consider the type of tackle; this was not an arm across the face that may or may not have been intentional. No, this was a two footed, off the ground lunge that had behind it the full force of Flamini’s bodyweight. What’s more, this is exactly the type of tackle that UEFA and FIFA claim to be trying to stamp out of the game.

For me, this rule is a further example that the governing of this great sport is a laughing stock. It is almost mandated now that a player celebrating a goal by removing his shirt is rewarded with a yellow card, yet nothing can be done about a tackle that seriously injured another player. Thank goodness he wasn’t harmed further.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The New Boys

Last night Chelsea handed Fernando Torres his second start in as many games, as well as a first for David Luiz in a Chelsea shirt. Both showed signs of promise but there was also plenty on display to underline that the manager’s work is not yet done.

Firstly let’s look at Torres. Without question, his movement off of the ball and between two centre halves is top drawer. Even being short of confidence, this is the part of his game that just happens; that is his talent. There were three or four occasions last night when he managed to creep off of the shoulder of one of the Fulham centre halves to get a sniff at goal. Unfortunately for Chelsea last night, that is where it ended as far as quality was concerned. It could be down to a lack of match sharpness (which would seem odd given he played regularly for Liverpool), taking time to settle in or just wanting to make extra sure with an additional touch, but Fernando Torres was not quite firing last night. I am not sure if the £50m price tag has added an extra burden onto his shoulders, but it has certainly given opposing fans something to shout about. There was no greater example of this than when the two Chelsea new boys linked up. David Luiz played a glorious ball over the top of the central defensive pair and Torres was off like a whippet. Watching the ball drop over his shoulder I was expecting one deft touch to control and one more to send the back of the net rippling. It wasn’t to be. That first deft touch that we were anticipating ended up being a hefty toe that sent the ball straight into the keeper’s arms. Cue cheers of “what a waste of money”. However, I have no doubt that at some point he will find that touch again and he will never look back.

As for David Luiz, there were many times throughout the 90 minutes when he showed he is a top class player. He is fast, good in the air and comfortable on the ball. Indeed, in the second half you could be forgiven for forgetting that Andy Johnson was even on the pitch, so little was his involvement. However there were also some concerning moments. The stand out one of these is giving away the penalty at the death that so nearly cost us a share of the points. I must say that he looked very tired at this point and maybe the foul was a result of the body not doing what the mind is telling it. If that is the case then Chelsea fans should have no worries. Adapting to the speed of the league is something all imports have to do and fitness will come with games. However I do think that there were other occasions when tiredness wasn’t the culprit. There were 3 or 4 occurrences during the 90 minutes when David Luiz came away from the back with the ball at his feet, only to give it away very cheaply, sometimes putting the team under immediate defensive pressure. There was also a tackle in the first half on Clint Dempsey in the box that didn’t look like it needed to be made- it was risky and could have given away a penalty. In these instances it appears that it was the decision making that was at fault and this could be harder to cure than fitness alone. Conceivably, one could argue that the pace of the game was a factor in all of these instances and I hope that that is the case. I don’t think that anyone can argue though that all the ingredients are there to make Luiz into one of the best defenders in the world.

So all in all a disappointing night for Chelsea in a game when we again failed to score despite dominating the game, however an encouraging performance from Luiz, an improved performance from Torres and another clean sheet give signs that finishing in the top four should be comfortable for Chelsea (that is my way of quietly conceding that hopes for the title are well and truly gone).

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Deadline day madness

So the transfer window has finally snapped shut and what looked to be shaping up to be a fairly drab period exploded on the final day with well over £100m worth of footballer changing hands.

Until the final day Edin Dzeko’s move from Wolfsburg to Manchester City looked to be the headline of the month. Roman Abramovich clearly had other ideas. With over £20m shelled out on Benfica defender David Luiz and an alleged £50m being wired to Liverpool for Fernando Torres, the direct knock on was Liverpool paying £35m for Andy Carroll. Both broke the British transfer record (with Carroll signing before Torres).

This is clearly bonkers money and there have been claims in the media regarding how we are supposed to be in a recession etc etc. Now I’m now economist but all this spending isn’t necessarily a bad thing is it? (Putting aside the fact that the £50m for Torres was Abromovich’s personal money and if he ever decides to call back in these “loans” Chelsea could be in deep doggy doo-doo). All of those transfers had tax associated with them so the economy has benefited from them. The money that Liverpool paid Newcastle has been funded directly from the sale of another player. Essentially, Mr Abramovich has pumped £50m into the British economy and it has changed hands a couple of times, with tax being paid on each occasion. If he has the money to spend then fair enough.

As for the question of who, out of Liverpool and Chelsea, did better out of the transfer window is an interesting one as there were external factors. Looking at the delta, Liverpool brought in Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll at the expense of £8m and Torres. I would say that their squad looks better now than it did last week. Liverpool have been crying out for a quality second striker. Admittedly it was to support Torres but they do now have two class acts. Or are they? They are both young and questions remain over attitude and temperament in both cases but there is no doubt that both players have the tools to be successful.

Chelsea on the other hand have gained Torres and Luiz at the cost of around £71m. The question here is based purely on value. I tend to side with the opinion that if Ronaldo is worth £80m then Torres is worth £50m. Last season he was the most clinical striker in the Premiership, and by that I mean that he converted the highest percentage of shooting opportunities into goals. Chelsea, on the other hand (and I don’t have the stats on this) create more chances than most of the other teams in the Premiership. Last night for instance against Sunderland, Chelsea manufactured 14 shots on target with 7 off target. This does not include blocked shots. It is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see that Torres should get the opportunity to score plenty of goals for Chelsea.

Ultimately the value will be determined by the numbers of goals that Torres scores and the success that that brings the team. However, with the Man Utd machine rumbling it is beginning to look ominous.

David Luiz is not a player that I know a great deal about but I know that he is very highly rated, can play anywhere across the back line and is a full International. He also has all of the physical attributes to be a success in England and, most importantly in my opinion, is young. As mentioned before in this blog, I do not go along with the idea that Chelsea have an ageing squad. There are some (possibly too many) players over 30 but there are also a significant number of players under the age of 21. These will take time to bed in and in a couple of years, when McEachran et al are 19/ 20/ 21, Luiz and Torres will be 25 and 28 and we will start to see the fruits from the academy form into a potent team.

Time will tell…

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

There's no Gray area- it's black and white

The one thing that I keep hearing from those not agreeing with Andy Gray's dismissal from Sky is that "it was said off-air, the microphones weren't supposed to be on". This is completely irrelevant. Andy Gray is not only at work when the cameras are rolling and the microphones are on. He is also at work when he is in make up, doing his preparation or changing his shirt ready to go on air. So the fact that the microphones were or were not recording is irrelevant, save for the part they play in providing evidence against him.

It looks very much to me like Charlotte Jackson may have come forward after the comments about Sian Massey, the female referee's assistant, were made. Looking at the clip she did not react well to the comments about tucking Gray's microphone into his trousers. Instead she glossed over it and, with as much professionalism as she could muster, continued with her job. However there were no smiles or giggles; this was not received as banter. Seeing the furore and public backlash to the comments around Ms. Massey, I would not be at all surprised if that gave Ms. Jackson the confidence to come forward with what she quite rightfully took to be wholly inappropriate behaviour.

Andy Gray is of course entitled to his opinions, no matter how prehistoric they may be, however when he is working for Sky and in the position of broadcasting to millions (whilst allegedly receiving over one million pounds in wages it must be said) they are unacceptable and must be kept away from the public.

Let's see if Richard Keys survives...

Monday, 24 January 2011

This is a Man's World...

I want to talk today about two different stories that are being circulated in the media at the moment, both of which I feel are getting entirely too much air time because as far as I'm concerned, these are open and shut cases; there is nothing to them.

The first is the issue of Andy Gray and Richard Keys being removed from the Monday Night Football slot following sexist comments made towards a female referee's assistant. The jibes were based around women not understanding the offside rule and were made off air before the Wolves vs Liverpool game (during which half of my 2-3 prediction came true!). Some have claimed that these comments have been blown massively out of proportion and that the punishment far outweighs the crime whereas others have said that this incident is right to be punished harshly as it represents sexism in football that goes far deeper than small comments made here or there.

For me, as broadcasters of the sport and therefore those with the responsibility of delivering the sport to the paying, watching public, these two gentlemen have a responsibility to behave in a professional manner. The comments may well have been in jest and they may well have been off air but at the end of the day in any other business you would not get away with saying such things as "I wouldn't want a woman to do that job" etc. It's unprofessional. This can be quite easily related back to the Ryan Babel incident a couple of weeks ago where he essentially branded referee Howard Webb a cheat. Whilst everyone is entitled to their opinion and of course we live in a free country, this issue is not about having an opinion or not it is about professionalism. That, for me, is the difference. And it is also why Mr Gray and Mr Keys were deservedly punished.

The other story that has popped up in the media today is the transfer sage involving Charlie Adam of Blackpool and a proposed move to Liverpool. Perhaps it is because we have a player from a smaller club moving to an established European club (biting my tongue quite hard here as a Chelsea fan!) but this seems to be getting far too much attention.

Again I see this quite simply. There are essentially three factors in the move. The wishes of the player, the wishes of the buying club and the wishes of the selling club. Once a player hands in a formal transfer request it is pretty obvious where his wishes lie, but also this means that the selling club is likely to agree (in theory) to a sale as keeping a player that doesn't want to be play is nonsensical. Once this happens it becomes an issue of money, as it so often does with football nowadays. If the buying and selling club can't agree on a fee then the sale won't happen; if they can, it will. More or less at least, with wages etc playing a part too. So with it being this simple, why is it getting so many column inches?

Ultimately I guess it is a testament to the popularity of the game. People want to read about it so papers will sell, people want to hear about it so radio shows host debates on it whilst advertisers pay to showcase their products at the same time. All another day in the life of Premiership football.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Are Arsenal being bullied?

With the FA Cup third round replays going on this week, the pick of the ties see Leeds hosting Arsenal after their 1-1 draw at the Emirates two weeks ago. I just wanted to voice my opinion on the claims made by Fabregas that Ipswich played “more like a rugby team” and other comments made by Arsene Wenger and various other Arsenal players in the past about how teams take an unfairly robust approach against them.

This really annoys me as there is nothing that says that teams have to go to the Emirates and play how Arsenal want them to. I would suggest that there are three things that determine how a team plays and their approach to any given game. One: the philosophy that the club would like to impart on their team; how they would ideally like to play football. Two: the tactics that the manager chooses to get the best performance out of his team, whilst stifling the opposition threat. Three: the laws of the game.

The final point is perhaps the most significant in the case of Wenger’s arguments in that teams are required to play within the laws of the game. Failure to do so will result in free kicks, yellow cards and so on. So however “robust” a game is, it must ultimately be within the laws of the game.

To be fair, this is not a criticism levelled only at Arsene Wenger, many managers in the past have attacked the way other teams play, most often Stoke or Blackburn. This is where points one and two come in really. If a team plays like that week in, week out then it could be conceivably argued that this style is part of their philosophy. I would not go that far as I believe that the managers of these clubs must have some desire to play passing football however with the resources at their disposal these ‘stronger’ tactics are sometimes the best option that they have of doing the most important thing in football; picking up three points.

Overall, I think that players and managers need to have a little bit more grace in defeat and respect for the opposition. The referee governs the game and what is and isn’t acceptable and at the end of the day, a muscular win picks you up just as many points as winning using only one and two touch football.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Rafael rightly charged

This morning it has appeared that Rafael has been charged by the FA with improper conduct following his outburst at the referee having been sent off at the weekend against Spurs.

I think that this is absolutely the right course of action from the FA and that they should be applauded for taking positive action. Whether people feel the sending off was harsh or not (I for one think the ref got it spot on- the attacking player was brought down illegally- whether intended or not- and the defending side gained an advantage from this), it is unacceptable to behave in that manner towards officials. One I thing that I would say is that a monetary fine isn’t really a punishment. For a player earning £40,000 per week, a £10k fine is only 2 days work! And that assumes that it even comes out of the players pocket in the first place! Perhaps a system could be introduced whereby a first charge is met with a fine and a warning and a repeat offence of misconduct is met with a fine and a one match suspension? Making players miss games is the only way that I can see a cultural change being introduced into the game.

Anyway, well done to the FA in this case, maybe just look at making the punishments a little harsher!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Seeing red. Or at least pink...

It was another interesting weekend in the Premiership, with 3 derbies on Sunday and action at both ends of the table.

At the top, things bunched up slightly with Arsenal, City and Chelsea all closing the gap on Man United who increased their points tally for the season by one making it an impressive 21 games unbeaten in the league this season.

At the bottom, West Ham continue to struggle and their day ended with what looked suspiciously like a farewell from Avram Grant. Wolves put up a decent fight against Man City and look to have goals in their locker; it’s just a case of finding some solidity at the back. Perhaps if Mick McCarthy can find a centre half from somewhere they can pull clear of the relegation zone.

I guess that the two main contentious issues from the weekend are the sending off of Rafael in the Spurs vs. United match and the fan hitting Steve Harper in the Sunderland vs. Newcastle game.

The issue of fans entering the field of play is a difficult one. To have police or stewards around the pitch for every minute of every game would be an expensive business. Indeed, if police were used it would surely deflect resources from elsewhere where they are needed. On top of this, is it necessarily fair to treat all of the supporters as one and assume that the behaviour of the collective is as bad as that of the worst individual? On the other hand the behaviour shown is completely unacceptable and efforts must be taken to ensure that it stops. Extra policing or stewarding is one such method but another could be to introduce harsher penalties so that the consequence of misbehaving acts as an incentive not to. Unfortunately his is unlikely to stop those who have had too much to drink, especially in local derbies, and lifetime bans already exist for the worst offenders. Perhaps the Premier League could enforce that those games likely to cause trouble (Newcastle vs. Sunderland, Villa vs. Birmingham, Arsenal vs. Tottenham etc) are played as lunchtime games with local pubs closed before kick off? This could be added with reduced ticket allocations for the away team making the group easier to police. If, over a few seasons, the clubs behaviour is exemplary then the ticket allocation could begin to be ramped up again. Comparably, more trouble would see the ticket allocation reduce accordingly.

As for Rafael’s red card I agree that the second one was a bit soft and that he didn’t appear to be attempting to trip Assou-Ekotto. However, the fact remains that he bought him down illegally (played the player without the ball) and gained an advantage from it. Had he not been booked it would have warranted a yellow card and therefore it should also be a yellow card having already received a booking. Furthermore I think that his first yellow card was fortunate in that the tackle was very high and some have suggested that it should have been a red. Ultimately over the course of the game the lad did comfortably enough to get himself sent off, including a waving a imaginary yellow card to the referee which has no place in the game. Players should learn to let the refs run the game and concentrate on what they are doing.

So another week passes and Chelsea have clawed back 4th place and two points on the leaders. Is there enough time to mount a serious charge or is a Champions League position going to have to be enough for this season? At the other end, can the clarets of Villa and West Ham do anything to pull themselves out of the relegation places? Roll on next weekend.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Is money ruining football?

With it being open season again in the transfer market, the inevitable phrases are doing the rounds regarding the vast sums being flaunted by some clubs. Nowadays this is Manchester City but in the not so distant past it was Chelsea spending all the money. The question for today is, “is money ruining football”?

In the “case for” you will hear people talking about how Chelsea only bought their success and Manchester City are doing the same, whereas in the opposite camp, supporters from these clubs will tell you that if they have someone prepared to stump up the funds then why shouldn’t they buy the best players in the world for the prices that they command?

First and foremost, in the modern game one has to accept that money is the driving force behind the game, which it generates from its success and popularity. Fans are prepared to pay £45 per game, £45 per replica shirt and £15 per month for their Sky Sports subscriptions. Without people spending this money, there would be no massive sponsorship deals where Thomson holidays promote themselves to you each weekend, or Samsung wave their newest products in your face. Similarly, Sky would not have to pay the Premier League so much money for the rights and the charges couldn’t be passed on to the fan. So, like it or lump it, those fans claiming that the game is being ruined by money are part of it. Away from the fans, the shareholders (or, increasingly, owners) want to see their clubs increase in value. The Glazers at Old Trafford are a great example of this; the club is an investment used to generate returns.

To get back to the original question, I don’t think that money is ruining football. Way back in 1995 when Blackburn Rovers won the Premier League, a lot of Jack Walkers money was spent on the club. Then through the late 90’s United were the big spenders. Yes the club had an excellent youth system producing the Neville’s, Scholes, Beckham and Butt but they were a massive commercial success and bought big when needed. Then came Chelsea and Abramovich’s billions. This is where the trouble started really as the money was spent so quickly and this was unlike anything that had ever been seen before. So you see, money has always been a big part of football and will continue to be.

Of course this could be all set to change with the introduction of the Financial Fair Play regulations set to be introduced. This opens up another can of worms in that is there anything to stop the Manchester City owner setting up a £200m sponsorship deal for the kit? I think that these regulations, in principal, are a good idea however policing them is going to be an extremely difficult job.

To finish, money is not ruining football. It is a contributing factor to the changes that we are seeing come into the game and whilst I accept that this increased rate of spending of late has attracted some negative publicity, it will come to be accepted as a normal part of the game until FIFA or UEFA decide to do something concrete about it. After all, it would be hard for me to complain being a Chelsea fan!

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Referee's a ******

For what it’s worth, I think that referee Howard Webb got both decisions spot on during the FA Cup game between Manchester United and Liverpool on Saturday. Firstly, Daniel Agger did not need to attempt the tackle in that position as Berbatov was heading towards the touchline. At the very worst he would have conceded a corner had he stayed on his feet. Secondly, Gerrard’s tackle was off the ground and by the letter of the law that warrants a red card. Whether the tackle was a dangerous one or not isn’t really here nor there. The fact is that those “off the ground” tackles are the ones that DO cause the serious injuries and they are the ones that the FA is (rightfully) trying to stamp out of the game.

The point of the title was to highlight the lack of respect shown to officials by players, particularly at the elite level. Whilst I am not of the opinion that footballers should be role models in their personal lives, I do feel quite strongly that players should respect the officials of the game. Especially considering the “Respect” campaign is something that is being pushed hard at a grass roots level; at an amateur game this weekend I saw a free kick being given for use of foul and abusive language. This was not aimed at a referee; it was simply said in frustration. It is pretty shocking what professionals can get away with. There were numerous examples in the Manchester United vs. Liverpool game. When Gerrard made his tackle that eventually earned him an early bath, all the players surrounded Howard Webb. He motioned and said for them to go away whilst walking backwards and still they followed. There were further instances when throws were given near the corner flag, resulting in the referee’s assistant to be abused by Maxi Rodriguez and later Patrice Evra.

This abuse and blatant lack of respect is something that needs to be cut from the game. It is all very well promoting these campaigns at grass roots level but the young players all watch the big games and this behaviour is viewed my millions as going unpunished and therefore as being acceptable. In my mind this is quite an easy one to solve. You either provide a carrot or a stick. Due to the vast sums that the players earn (whether that is right or wrong is a debate for another day), I very much doubt if there is a carrot big enough to provide an incentive to get the players to stop abusing officials. That leaves the stick. Hand each player a warning over the first instance of foul language or verbal abuse and then every time after that dish out a yellow card. If a player does it twice in a game he will get sent off. Then see how quickly he does it again after coming back from his suspension. Andy Townsend ridiculously suggested on the FA Cup highlights last night that sending off everyone who committed a tackle like Gerrard’s would “see most games ending up as 9 vs. 8”. This is simply untrue. Whilst I accept that there would be a couple of weeks of chaos where players toe the line and lots of red cards are given, players will very quickly get the message and the language and abuse will stop.

Harsh action is the only thing that will have any effect. Sewing a “Respect” badge onto a players’ sleeve does nothing, sending him off does. This zero tolerance is something that should be learned from rugby, a game where losing a player from a side has an even bigger influence on the balance of the game than in football, yet any outbursts towards referees are immediately punished. This black and white approach would not only clear up all these ambiguous debates that call into question either a referee's ability (in making the right decision) or a player's integrity (if he set out to use excessive force to injure a player) but it will also begin to install some positive behaviours into the game that will start to trickle down towards the grass roots level, rather than the heavily flawed plan to introduce the changes at the grass roots level. If the changes aren't going to be enforced at the elite level, what chance do the amateurs and youths have?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Fed To The Wolves

Lacklustre. An adjective that is increasingly being associated with Chelsea at the moment.

It was my original plan to write a piece on the disappointing recent performances of Chelsea in a retrospective manner having watched them string together three or four wins on the bounce. This doesn't look as though it is going to be any time soon so I will share my thoughts now.

So Chelsea went down 1-0 away to Wolves yesterday evening with a level of performance that is becoming more and more frequent at the moment. One thing that wasn't fitting with recent performances though was the fact that Ashley Cole was arguably at fault for the goal. As the defender on the near post of a corner I accept that your job is to protect the post but as soon as you see that the ball is coming towards you and not "into the mixer" you have to attack it and clear. Worse still, as a left footer he would have been well positioned to hook the ball clear yet seemed to get his feet completely mixed up. Worrying times indeed if our most consistent, and arguably most gifted, player is failing to meet his usual exceptional standards.

Thankfully last night, Liverpool lost 3-1 away to Blackburn which means, temporarily at least, the intense media glare surrounding the managerial "sack race" is focused on Roy Hodgson and away from Stamford Bridge. Inevitably though the time will come (most likely sooner rather than later although a Spurs loss last night may have bought some more time) when people will start to question Ancelotti's position within the club. I personally feel as though sacking Carlo would be a backward step. This is for a number of reasons:
1. Who else is available at the moment that could do a better job? This also couples in with the fact that it has been proven that continuity contributes towards success. A sneaky look towards Old Trafford confirms that (don't let them see though).
2. Is it all the managers fault? At the start of the season Chelsea were on fire, whether they had an easy opening set of games or not they were scoring goals for fun and looked tight at the back. Then you take out Lampard completely and, for a certain number of games, Alex, Terry, Essien and Drogba and any team starts to look weaker. The loss of Ray Wilkins will have had some effect although I doubt very much if the base of the team and the club as a whole meant they were as badly affected as some outlets of the media reported. Then there is the entirely grey area that is a loss of form and this is the hardest area to explain. Ultimately that is where the manager needs to earn his coin. For my two pence worth, I would be having a look at how we have become such slow starters and also addressing the matter of increasing our tempo. Arsenal at their free-flowing best move the ball about with pace and accuracy. There were times at the start of this season and for large chunks of the last when this was the case at Chelsea. Now it all seems too pedestrian and lethargic. Ramires certainly has work to do with his distribution too. Whilst his energy and ball winning are starting to increase his reputation, there is no excuse for passing a ball straight to an opposition centre half. Especially when you cost £18m.
3. Carlo Ancelotti was bought into Chelsea to win the Champions League. Lets be honest. That is the trophy that the owner wants the most. Whilst it is undoubtedly true that qualification for next season's competition is a must, I would suggest that our chances of winning the competition with a new manager (whoever he or she may be) at this stage of the season are approaching nil. Let's just see how we get on. I just hope that the owner and the board have the patience to stick with it.

On the issue of patience, I think that everyone involved with the club will be impressed with some of the talent coming through. Josh McEachran looks to be an excellent player with exceptional technical ability, something that must surely bode well for Chelsea and England in the future. Maybe part of the problem at the moment is the lack of "inbetweeners", and by that I mean people in the 24-28 bracket? There is only really Essien and Malouda in there, and either side we have numerous people in the sub-22 or 30+ brackets.

Anyway, Sunday in the FA Cup against Ipswich has turned into what could and should have been a nice day out for the club into an almost must win game. Being knocked out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round against a Championship club may prove too much to stomach for some fans, possibly even the owner.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Bombs Away

Ok so here goes...

I have started this blog as lately I have become a little frustrated at the amount of quality football games, analysis, punditry and review available to the average guy on the street (that is to say, those without Sky Sports). My girlfriend will be absolutely sickened by this but it is more of an observation regarding the quality rather than the quantity. And "quality" is not a dig at lower league or non-Premiership football. I generally find that MOTD fails to give the viewer much value. Sure, people want to see the highlights of the games but the analysis of the 'experts' I find to be quite tedious. This was summed up brilliantly for me by the ever enigmatic Alan Shearer during the World Cup 2010. Commenting on a young French player Mr Shearer said something along the lines of... "We don't know much about him but he looks something of a player". Brilliant Alan, just remind me, what's your job again?! To tell us about the players maybe?!

In this blog I also intend to cover some broader areas of football. It's part of the beauty of the game that everyone has an opinion and it's no different with me. What I do appreciate though are the occassions when two people are having a debate on a topic that they both feel strongly about and one will say "Fair point, I didn't think about it like that actually". This is something that obviously gets lost at games when the passion (a word thrown about a lot and one I may cover in the future) gets in the way. This situation is one that I would like to materialise through some of my postings and am more than happy to say it myself to any comments or anything else that I read. I think that footballers and football fans generally get a bad rep and a secondary intention of this blog is to provide some (hopefully) insightful comments surrounding the game I love rather than the all-too-common "Gary Neville has a rubbish moustache", "Stan Collymore is a loud mouthed idiot" or "Wenger should get his eyes tested" (however true they may be).

Anyway, the start of this blog ties in nicely with the title and the current situation in the Premiership. Chelsea are in the middle of their worst run of form in a very long time, sit 5th in the Prem and travel this evening to a Wolves team at the bottom of the table. Failure to pick up 3 points and it very well may be "bombs away" for someone. I will cover my thoughts on Chelsea's slump in a later post, hopefully off the back of a convincing win, preferably with a clean sheet. Elsewhere there is a tasty game in store with Arsenal hosting Manchester City; can either of the so-called "pretenders" to the title seriously dent the others' title dreams?

Elsewhere in sport the best of luck goes to the English cricketers who are currently the only ones standing between themselves and a historic 3-1 series Ashes win over in Australia. The Australians look throughly dejected at the moment and it is brilliant to see them being put to the sword, I only hope that the bowlers can finish them off to get the win that they deserve.