Monthly Archives: May 2014

Sochaux: The almost great escape

Renard almost performed another miracle.  Source:

Renard almost performed another miracle. Source:

They almost did it. FC Sochaux-Montbéliard, a staple of French football, were finally relegated after losing on the final day of the season. It was almost a miracle story, one that would be remembered for years to come but they couldn’t quite manage the greatest of escapes.

They couldn’t have got off to a worse start, Sochaux lost their first seven games of the season which led to the sacking of Éric Hély in September. In came Hervé Renard, the man who managed to win the African Cup of Nations in 2012 with the unfancied hosts Zambia, could he be the one to save them from relegation and work his magic a second time?

It didn’t work from the off, the club continued to struggle on and they went into the winter break with just 11 points. All signs pointed to the team going down, their best player Sebastian Corchia was sold and the team looked out of ideas even with only half a season gone.

Getting Jordan Ayew on loan was critical to improving Sochaux's luck.  Source:

Getting Jordan Ayew on loan was critical to improving Sochaux’s luck. Source:

But then, they had a transfer window like no other, both in its luck and its absurdity. In came Yohann Pelé, a goalkeeper that hadn’t played a competitive game in three years, to replace struggling youngster Pierrick Cros. They also brought Jordan Ayew on loan from Marseille to provide an extra goal-threat they so desperately needed and whilst that was a slight surprise, the best was yet to come.

Corchia, who had been sold during the window to Lille, returned to the club because of an error in the signing of him that meant he wasn’t registered with his new club. It was an incredible stroke of luck, they had a quality player for another half of the season and he was determined to just play football knowing he’d only be there for the last half of the season.

From the end of January, they started picking up the wins they needed to get back into the fight for safety in Ligue 1. They pulled off wins against the mid-table sides they were getting beat by earlier in the season and even earned valuable draws against Paris St Germain and Marseille, which were in part of a seven-game unbeaten run.


Corchia unlikely return revitalised Sochaux, but it wasn't quite enough.  Source:

Corchia unlikely return revitalised Sochaux, but it wasn’t quite enough. Source:

Heading into their final game of the season, they were just two points off 17th placed Evian who they would play at Stade Auguste Bonal to see who would keep their status as a top-flight French football club. They had all the momentum behind them, Evian had stalled dramatically over the second half of the season and there was a real feeling that they could really do it.

In the end, they couldn’t jump the final hurdle. A 3-0 loss on that final day sealed their fate, an inspired performance from Evian’s Daniel Wass condemned the Lion Cubs to Ligue 2. It was heart-breaking for the fans, players and Renard, they had done everything they could to stave off relegation but one last win was a bridge too far.

It would have been one of the greatest football stories in modern history but sometimes stories don’t end in the way everyone would like to. Had the season started in January, Sochaux would have finished 7th which shows just how good their turnaround was. Some will be back in Ligue 1 next season with different clubs but hopefully it won’t be too long before we see this proud club back in the top flight.


Xbox One changes to challenge the PS4 going into E3

You will no longer be forced to have this sitting by your TV set.  Source: Forbes

You will no longer be forced to have this sitting by your TV set. Source: Forbes

This past week, Xbox revealed a new Kinect-less bundle that will be priced to compete much more closely with Sony’s PS4. With Sony seeming to have won the first battle in the new console generation, will this latest move allow Microsoft to close the gap? Have they already given up on their big Kinect push?

One of the biggest factors heading into post the Xbox One’s and the PS4’s launch was the price point, the One would cost almost £80 more than their Sony counterpart due to the Kinect being bundled with it. That has led to a lot of people to simply go for the cheaper machine as there isn’t too much difference between the performance of the two boxes and in the beginning there wasn’t many good exclusives to choose from either.

This was a good move in that sense; both because it will hopefully bring in people that despise the Kinect as well as attract those that were simply put off by the price point. It’ll make it much more of a direct competitor to the PS4 and now that both have a good slew of games ahead of them, people can make a decision on games rather than money.

The PS4 has won the initial sales skirmish, Microsoft had to respond somehow.  Source:

The PS4 has won the initial sales skirmish, Microsoft had to respond somehow. Source:

Another issue raised from a Kinect-less bundle is that it might have a knock on effect to companies working on games for Kinect and also the future for motion controls altogether. Without the guaranteed number of the camera peripheral for publishers to look at, now they might feel that creating games with Kinect in mind has more risk than potential reward.

However, they will take heart in how surprisingly well the Playstation camera has done despite it not being bundled in with the PS4. They would have looked at that before making that decision, which would have also reaffirmed their own belief that people want motion controls and the concept isn’t quite dead in the water.


E3 is the next battle, who will come out with the better line-up heading into Christmas and next year?  Source:

E3 is the next battle, who will come out with the better line-up heading into Christmas and next year? Source:

There are more pluses coming out of Xbox recently with them also announcing the introduction of Games with Gold to the Xbox One very soon. It’s a good move that the Playstation Plus has taken advantage of since launch so they still have some catching up to do but it’s a positive step. They will also have to improve from the games selection they had on the Xbox 360 because they could face a backlash for putting out old or poor content for free.

Behind all this looms the rising sun which is the E3 conference in June. With both having devices available heading into the event at “reasonable” prices, they will now have to go out all-guns blazing showing off exclusives to come for both consoles. That will be the next big battle that both face and a win for Sony could knock Microsoft off its perch but an impressive showing by Xbox could make things very interesting heading into the Christmas period.

A salute to my defensive heroes

It'll go down as one of the best defensive partnerships of all time.  Source: foxsportsasia

It’ll go down as one of the best defensive partnerships of all time. Source: foxsportsasia

Sometimes an end of an era can feel a little cliché but the amount of world class defenders either leaving their clubs or retiring this summer makes it feel like a chapter of football is coming to a close. There are four that I’d like to have a look at today, both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand leaving Manchester United, Carles Puyol leaving Barcelona and the retirement of Inter Milan legend Javier Zanetti.

Starting with the two who finished last weekend, Vidic and Ferdinand were the top defensive pairing in England for several years and arguably the best in Europe at their peak. On one side you had the stern, hard-tackling no-nonsense style of the Serbian blending perfectly with the pace, passing and composure of the Englishman, it was a match made in footballing heaven.

Ever since Vidic was inserted into the side they worked in tadem, both strong personalities and both would go on to captain the club at different stages. However, in the past year or so, they haven’t been able to start together and injuries have begun to pile up. Rio lost the pace he once had, Vidic has found it difficult to adjust playing next to anyone else and his time off for injuries has been builing.

"Lionheart" will be remembered as one of Barcelona's greats.  Source:

“Lionheart” will be remembered as one of Barcelona’s greats. Source:


Both will be seeking pastures new this summer, Nemanja will be taking his talents to Italy with Inter Milan where the pace of the game may help his longevity and allow himself to remind people just how good he is. For Rio, it’s a little more unclear with the US being a possible destination or retirement but both have had outstanding careers and both will go down as club legends.

Another player leaving his club this summer is Barcelona club captain and hero Carles Puyol. Having played for them since he was in the youth ranks in 1995, Puyol wears the Catalan club on his sleeve and is the heartbeat of the team even whilst on the sidelines. His passion, his strength and his excellent defending skills enthralled a generation, no one could be more pleased that a man like Puyol managed to win so much.

It’s such a shame that a great defender like Puyol has been ravaged by injury so badly in recent years but that should never take away from his brilliance as a footballer. He’ll likely be looking towards the MLS to play for a few years before retirement but even though he’s leaving, there will always be red and blue blood running through his veins.

Javier Zanetti, so consistent his hairstyle hasn't changed for 20 years.  Source: ITV

Javier Zanetti, so consistent his hairstyle hasn’t changed for 20 years. Source: ITV

Finally, we say farewell to one of the best and most consistent full backs of all time, Javier Zanetti. From the never-changing hairstyle to the incredible fitness to his consistent consistency, Zanetti has been the perfect role model for young players on how to maintain yourself at the top level for two decades.

Over 1,100 games in his career, he still played 48 games last season at the age of 39 and many were worried we had been robbed of a goodbye due to an injury he suffered late last year. Luckily he recovered to play another 12 games for Inter Milan, the club he will now become a director at but probably still turn up in his shorts rather than a suit.

It’s always a sad moment to see such great players move on to new things but it makes you appreciate the time you get watching them play. These four are fantastic footballers, one with another chance yet to prove how good he is but for all of them it’s a credit that they played so heroically for their respected clubs for such a long period of time. They won’t ever be forgotten.

How to solve a problem like the England national side

Dyke needs to take longer to come to a better conclusion than what has been presented so far.  Source: The Telegraph

Dyke needs to take longer to come to a better conclusion than what has been presented so far. Source: The Telegraph

In the wake of Greg Dyke and the FA Commissions conclusions last week, the debate on how to improve the England team has reignited. Some feel that there should be less foreign players, some believe that B teams will be the solution whilst others want better coaching starting from a young age.

The B team proposal has brought ire from many corners of the footballing world, especially the fans of the Football League, but the FA have a valid reason for bringing it up. Adding them to the league structure gives young players a chance to play first-team football against teams whilst also remaining in a high-quality coaching environment. However, in doing so adding them in will really hurt England’s league structure and would potentially damage other team’s chances of promotion.

Barcelona B kind-of works, it brings through players but bins plenty more.  Source:

Barcelona B kind-of works, it brings through players but bins plenty more. Source:

It’s an idea that does happen in other European countries but it’s not exactly had the best of successes for every team or even a nation. Spain is an example of it working but only for their biggest two teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid, whilst the others play in almost semi-professional leagues. It’s not worked in Germany, with teams voting to get rid of them after the results did not equal the costs it made to the team.

So what else can be done to improve the England national team? Some would say that there should be more restrictions on foreign players in a team’s starting 11. Giving the young players or even just English players in general a better chance of playing and improving to the point where they could play for the national side.

It does have some significant downsides, the league could suffer due to having to play potentially inferior footballers for the sake of a ruling and it will also mean that the Premier League might not attract the top talent due to the restrictions. Strict rules also haven’t worked well in other countries, Turkey and Russia are the most restrictive and both are yet to see real benefits at international level.

Turkey failed to make the World Cup, their pro-country rules for their league have yet to see rewards.  Source:

Turkey failed to make the World Cup, their pro-country rules for their league have yet to see rewards. Source:

It’s a little worrying that it isn’t blatantly obvious to the higher-ups what needs changing. There needs to be a drastic improvement on coaching at every level, funding to allow that to happen or at least reduced prices so that young players can have that high level of learning throughout their young careers no matter where they start.

It’s also about changing the win-now culture, buying players to dig yourself out of a hole rather than believing in some of the talent you already have. Just look at Sunderland, it took an effort from a loaned-out English youngster in Connor Wickham to turn things around but he also had help from quality foreign talent around him. That needs to be remembered, that world class players around them will also help them improve and that we shouldn’t restrict foreign players from making a living in English football.

From now on we should be Adopting the belief that if they are good enough they are old enough and to not restrict talent by holding them back. Allow them the chance to shine, alongside established players both English and foreign, and they might just snatch it with both hands, until someone gives them that chance you might never know.

The English fear of “Directors of Football”

Baldini, the former England assistant, has been seen as a failure at Tottenham in his first season.  Source: The Guardian

Baldini, the former England assistant, has been seen as a failure at Tottenham in his first season. Source: The Guardian

A director of football, it’s a topic that often crops up from time to time in English football and each time it’s met by people denouncing the idea right off the bat. Horror stories from other clubs who’ve tried, failed and started again with just a manager in charge has put so many people off the idea. But why are so few teams adopting the style? And if they do, can it work and bring success?

The definition of the role is a little bit vague but the director of football I’m talking about is someone who controls player recruitment in association with the manager, the scouts and the staff. He’s the one who draws up the shortlists of players that work in his manager’s, or the owners, preferred style then goes out to get them. It’s a position more commonly known abroad as a sporting director or a general manager which can also be the name of the role in England but the buzzword here is director of football.

A few teams in the Premier League already use the model, with Tottenham Hotspur being the most well-known due to press coverage but they are growing in number. Crystal Palace, West Brom and even Manchester City to some degree have used this idea to varying successes.

Sammer has been superb for Bayern.  Source:

Sammer has been superb for Bayern. Source:

The fear lies in the failures and that’s where it scares some sides off the idea of diverting some control away from a manager. Examples like Dennis Wise at Newcastle, Damien Comolli at Liverpool and to some extent Franco Baldini’s current job at Tottenham leaves teams with the fear that managers would be upset or even worse, the man gifted the treasure chest may waste the cash.

However, if you look to the other leagues in Europe it’s clear that it can work and it can bring a lot of success. Barcelona have had a director of football for many years now, Matthias Sammer at Bayern Munich is pointed to as a factor in the club’s resurgence in Europe and Florentino Perez has been the one to pick the newest Galactico at Real Madrid for a long while.

It’s also something that’s regularly employed across the pond in US sports, with one man tasked with getting a team together and another in their job to coach them. It’s obviously still working in tadem, they both rely on each other to get results or they both get it in the neck but it something that’s expected to work and it has brought plenty of glory to a variety of teams.

Txiki Begiristain is well-respected, bringing success to Barcelona and Manchester City.  Source: BBC

Txiki Begiristain is well-respected, bringing success to Barcelona and Manchester City. Source: BBC

The main reason they work is the same as a football team in general, when everyone is on the same page pulling in the right direction then it can be plain sailing. The issues are two-fold, managers in England that want to be their own man like in the good old days and owners that want an extra cook but usually enforce it rather than lay down the foundations which regularly lead to friction.

Eventually one of the more high-profile “director of football” deals in England will work out, it’ll then be in vogue and it’ll be like the rest of football where the very best managers can be their own man. City winning the league might not be enough due to it being a bit more low-key, although Txiki Begiristain would have seen over success both at them and Barcelona, but soon enough there will be one big success story in England. When it happens, this won’t be a topic any more but until that happens, fans and media alike will still be sceptics to the idea of someone else other than the manager being responsible for playing staff decisions.

Why is it bad not to celebrate a goal?

This is a perfectly acceptable way to celebrate.  Source:

This is a perfectly acceptable way to celebrate. Source:

Last midweek, both social media and the television pundits were ablaze in chatter about one relatively trivial part of a football game. After scoring for Chelsea against his former club Atletico Madrid, Fernando Torres refused to celebrate. Many were angered, some were bemused and some agreed, but why should it really matter?

Looking at it from Torres’ point of view, it’s not at all surprising that he respectfully declined to celebrate his goal. He’d been at Atleti for over 12 years, beginning there at just 11 and altogether he’s still played more games in an Atletico shirt than in both his English clubs combined. They made him into the footballer and the man he is today, he has an enormous amount of love and appreciation for a club he might even re-join come the summer.

This is also an acceptable way to celebrate.  Source: The Telegraph

This is also an acceptable way to celebrate. Source: The Telegraph

Thankfully, some journalists saw this and accepted it as that but there were many more who were irate at the fact he didn’t celebrate. Some were saying “you’ve just scored for your team in the Champions League semi-final, go enjoy yourself!” which is fair enough but I noted someone mention that Chelsea pay him, therefore he should celebrate.

This is where the line should really be drawn. Why should you have to celebrate? Many managers, even in key moments that save their careers, stay in their seat unmoved and decide not to do what essentially is a form of gloating. In places such as the NFL, celebrating in the broadest term isn’t really allowed above a few high-five’s and hugs with teammates, so why should you celebrate just because you can.

This is not acceptable, surprisingly.  Source: The Telegraph

This is not acceptable, surprisingly. Source: The Telegraph

It’s a choice, a choice some choose to make and others decide not to. Look at Robin Van Persie’s celebration against Arsenal earlier in the season, he spent a long time at the club but decided that he felt he should celebrate a goal against them which is perfectly fine. It upset Arsenal fans and in turn delighted United fans but again, it’s his choice to do what he likes after scoring a goal as long as it’s not Adebayor-esque.

In the end, some of the older section of football fans, journalists and pundits get a little wound up over the smallest, insignificant matters. You should be able to celebrate in any way you wish within the laws of the game, whether that’s with somersaults or acting like you’ve been there before. It’s something that should only matter to the player himself, it’s their decision and we should leave them to it.

Anti-Football: an excuse for those that can’t beat it

Mourinho got his tactics perfect against Liverpool, to the anger of almost everyone.  Source: The Guardian

Mourinho got his tactics perfect against Liverpool, to the anger of almost everyone. Source: The Guardian

A phrase that crops up in football conversation with more frequency, Anti-Football is a myth that people like to throw at teams that play defensively to earn themselves a valuable clean sheet. It’s not a system you look to use to “earn a draw”, it’s a tactic you use against teams that either like to relentlessly attack or play possession football to frustrate and counter.

Chelsea’s performance was labelled as such, playing a negative style of football to stop Liverpool’s quick attacking play and it worked, the Reds had no answer to what was put in front of them. Chelsea worked incredibly hard in getting players back, with wide men Andre Schurrle and Mohammed Salah (then Willian) tucked in next to the back four with the wall of Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel in front of them.

They got a lucky goal, held on until there was a real chance to counter and killed off the game in the final minutes. From the first few minutes, Liverpool had a problem because their style wasn’t suited to someone sitting back and they couldn’t cut through Chelsea’s “parked bus”. They never tried anything different and as soon as they went a goal down they rushed passes into the frontmen and took pot shots from distance.

Brendan Rodgers is a very good tactician, but he didn't have an answer for Chelsea.  Source: Daily Star

Brendan Rodgers is a very good tactician, but he didn’t have an answer for Chelsea. Source: Daily Star

As usual, the losing manager comes out in anger that the other team didn’t play football simply because they played a different style. It is regularly used to deflect the attention away from the fact that the team who had all of the possession couldn’t find a way to break them down, the onus is on them to cut through them and pinning the blame away is looking past your own faults.

It’s ironic that Chelsea employed the style that Jose Mourinho called “19th century football” after a draw to West Ham but it’s been a staple of the Special One’s style and even Chelsea themselves. It’s helped Mourinho be so successful in the big games, it helped Chelsea win the Champions League and it helped them beat Liverpool last weekend.

So why is it called Anti-Football? It’s created by the football “purists” who want to see entertaining football that’s end-to-end but creates so much risk for a side that feels that it doesn’t suit their players. Chelsea knew that a clean sheet against Liverpool would be vital to victory, especially as they come out so quickly and they proved right, Liverpool don’t have the best defensive record and they knew that if they could shut them out they could get something at the other end.

Yes, some of the tactics were a little unsporting, but it got results.  Source:

Yes, some of the tactics were a little unsporting, but it got results. Source:

It’s a slur, an offensive statement that’s supposed to annoy or irritate those that decide that their best route to victory is through defending. It’s wrong to insinuate that there is only a few ways to play football, that’s the real beauty of the game and to denounce something simply because it’s unattractive is snobbish.

The very best of teams find a way to beat teams regardless of how they set up, the best of managers alter their play to make an opening that creates a goal and when it doesn’t happen it’s just one of those days. It’s a part of football that whilst not being so pleasing on everyone’s eye, it’s something that a team must deal with and shouldn’t be so dismissed as Anti-Football. It makes it sound like it shouldn’t be done, but it’s a perfectly viable tactic that creates interesting football battles and for that, it’s definitely not against the spirit of the sport.