Monthly Archives: January 2016

Adebayor signing personifies 2016 January window

Adebayor was a symptom of the window, he was simply the easiest person to do business this January.  Source: Sky Sports

Adebayor was a symptom of the window, he was simply the easiest person to do business this January. Source: Sky Sports

Last night, Crystal Palace announced the signing of former Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur striker Emmanuel Adebayor until the end of the season. The move raised a few eyebrows, the Togolese international known for his fleeting successes and tendency to peter out, but this deal is the epitome of the winter window this season.

No one wants to play ball.

It’s highlighted by some of the moves this summer, with some only really coming to fruition because they had to. Charlie Austin joined Southampton for £4m because he had just six months to run on his contract QPR, the same reason Leeds United allowed Sam Byram to join West Ham United.

With so much pressure on teams to stay in the division, they are trying their best to find deals but finding anyone domestically has been a real drag.

Austin was a great signing but forced by his contract situation.  Source: The Express

Austin was a great signing but forced by his contract situation. Source: The Express

Players like Loic Remy, desperate to play some first-team football ahead of Euro 2016 has been forced to stay at Chelsea. That may change for him now it looks like Alexandre Pato is joining the club on loan, but that leaves clubs just a few days to fight for his signature.

Clubs like Sunderland and Aston Villa are wandering aimlessly in their search for reinforcements but can’t find what they need. Other teams won’t sell them the quality they need as most still need it themselves, anyone who they can get then either is hesitent about joining a relegation side on a permanent basis or simply not a step-up to what they’ve already got.

Even those surplus to requirements have simply been bumped up in price. Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend have both joined Newcastle United and while they do have quality, they were deemed as not needed by other clubs yet still cost £12m each.

Those astronomical prices and the unwillingness to sell has teams looking abroad, where they can be more likely to allow players to leave. But even then, some drive a hard bargain and the likelyhood that any should meet the expectation to make an immediate impact for those clubs in need is a little farfetched to say the least.

Shelvey was a solid signing, but £12m still seems a lpt.  Source: The Guardian

Shelvey was a solid signing, but £12m still seems a lpt. Source: The Guardian

All that leads to why the Adebayor deal makes sense. He’s a free agent, you don’t need to negotiate with any club and the only thing that stalled a deal was to get Spurs to pay a percentage of what they still owe him to see it through.

Seeing as the Palace strikeforce has scored just once all season, it shouldn’t be too hard for him to be at least a minor success. He’ll be gone at the end of the season, unless he really impresses and brings his wage demands down, and Alan Pardew will look to reinforce with a better option in the much less restrictive summer window.

There have been calls in the past to end this window because of what it can do to smaller clubs. What has been evident this time around is that it’s affected everyone, dominoes have failed to fall and therefore clubs have been stuck in a rut with nowhere to go.

Again, especially in the Premier League, this may change when the new money comes in next year and teams just spend willy-nilly. However, should this happen again next season, it could actually be the beginning of the end for the January winter window.

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A look at Liverpool’s transfer committee

The transfer committee, eventually, helped sink Rodgers but he agreed to it.  Source: Sky Sports

The transfer committee, eventually, helped sink Rodgers but he agreed to it. Source: Sky Sports

While I’ve wrote in the past about the benefits of a director of football, it’s too tempting not to have a look into a different style that one team in England has gone with for quite a while, Liverpool’s “transfer committee”.

To summarise what we have been told, a group of higher-ups at the Anfield club write up a shortlist of who they will look to obtain. According to their former manager Brendan Rodgers, this is paraphrasing, if they did not get their top target, they would get one of their 20 or so names on that list.

They would tend to prioritise young players, aiming at 24 or younger, with the view that they could add value to them and if needed, sell them for a profit. Obviously there would be exceptions and the option to veto but every single transfer came through a similar kind of process.

Balotelli may always be the poster boy for it not working.  Source: 101greatgoals.com

Balotelli may always be the poster boy for it not working. Source: 101greatgoals.com

Before getting into the negatives, there are certainly some positives. Both Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho were signed after the scheme was implemented in 2012 and the likes of Emre Can, along with Roberto Firmino, are showing enough promise that the system may be worth it.

However, there have been some poor mistakes. Even Rodgers admitted that the Mario Balotelli experiment was a huge risk as he didn’t fit their system but the board saw it as someone they could potentially make a huge profit on.

There’s a number of signings they have made that just never worked out. Iago Aspas looked, and still does back at Celta Vigo, that he would fit perfectly but since he was probably just another name on a shortlist, he never saw the time on the field to adjust and therefore was doomed to fail.

Of course, we should remind ourselves that these two were also bought under the regime.  Source: vavel.com

Of course, we should remind ourselves that these two were also bought under the regime. Source: vavel.com

You can argue that Rodgers still got what he wanted in most cases, as highlighted by the signings of Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, but neither lit the world alight. None of them have quite adjusted to the level required at a club of that size and it makes it seem like it’s too much of a scattered approach to signing players.

The worry begins when you hear that Rodgers felt that he had Alexis Sanchez in the bag. That somehow did not happen, it would have been perfect for the club  and in the end, they brought in nowhere near the same quality he thought they had sealed early. That killed the momentum they had from the previous season and the team still hasn’t recovered yet under Jurgen Klopp.

In the end, I feel that this method feels like it’s too many cooks spoiling the broth. You can say that the manager would always get someone on the list, therefore justifying a transfer, but when you go into the shop for a chocolate bar and come out with mint imperials, it can be still be good but just not what you needed.

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Helmet-to-helmet contact in the NFL needs to end

This was the hit, it wasn't at all pretty.  Source: stillcurtain.com

This was the hit, it wasn’t at all pretty. Source: stillcurtain.com

In a dirty, physical game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers that ended ugly, the one turning point of the game has been left in the background a little.

Sometime in the third quarter, Ryan Shazier created a turnover for the visiting Steelers as he forced a fumble from Bengals running back Giovani Bernard. The 24-year-old was crushed by a head-to-head contact hit, knocking him unconscious which caused him to drop the football.

No penalty was called on the field. Many were saying that after catching the ball, Bernard had done enough to be an active runner, therefore it was a fair play. The incident caused outrage on the Cincinnati sideline, ruling the running back out of the game and inspiring both the comeback and the blow up to finish the game.

What was more infuriating to me was not the decision by the referees, their hands were pretty much tied, but the reaction on social media that this was an okay, clean hit. A man was knocked out of a game, lost consciousness almost immediately and that simply can’t carry on.

Burfict needs to control his emotions and stop the dirty, dangerous hits.  Source: Fox Sports

Burfict needs to control his emotions and stop the dirty, dangerous hits. Source: Fox Sports

With the amount of people having to end their careers prematurely, with players in the concussion protocol every single week and retired professionals suffering a worse quality of life because of what they suffered on the field cannot be allowed to go on.

It’s highlighted in the new film starring Will Smith, which will cast many more eyes on the NFL as they should do something to prevent them from happening. The first move should be this, too many tackles are led by the head or aimed at the head, when you can bring a man down just as easily, just as impactful and safely with a lowered-shoulder arm tackle.

There is no reason to do it with your head. Look at rugby, where you can stop anyone’s momentum with your body rather than your head. A good move might to be to get rid of helmets but they are so iconic that it could be very difficult to do but it allows players to believe they can do things like this.

Those that, even more absurdly, think that concussions and head injuries come with the territory are deluded. It isn’t boxing, where the intent is to hit someone in the head, and players will certainly have not signed on to repeatedly have concussion-like symptoms for their career.

The Will Smith film concussion, out now in America, will only increase the scrutiny.  Source: Vanity Fair

The Will Smith film concussion, out now in America, will only increase the scrutiny. Source: Vanity Fair

I feel that the hits by Vontaze Burfict should also be highlighted as being very dangerous, as was hit unnecessary hit against the Baltimore Ravens last week. His suspension is justified and a terrifically talented player needs to reign his attitude in next season.

Also, credit to Shazier for tweeting that he didn’t intend to hurt Bernard, his celebrations on the sideline were clearly because he’d made a potentially big turnover but players know those hits are dangerous. They can cause an immediate stop to their momentum and can cause problems to the neck as well as potential long-term issues to the head.

In my opinion, hits like we saw by Shazier are inexcusable and are an archaic continuation from the older days of the NFL when head injuries were not as clearly recognised.  The fact of the matter is that consistently taking blows of that magnitude to the head, both for the offender and receiver, will end with both put them in serious risk of future problems.

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How did Jeff Fisher hang on to the St Louis Rams job?

Fisher has outstayed any welcome without much progress.  Source: theodysseyonline.com

Fisher has outstayed any welcome without much progress. Source: theodysseyonline.com

The St Louis Rams finished the 2015 regular season with a 7-9 record, their fourth season in a row under .500 with head coach Jeff Fisher at the helm yet there is not a great calling to make a change. In the modern NFL, that seems a little more than strange.

At the start of the year, they again flattered to deceive. They pulled out a gutsy performance against the Seattle Seahawks, fuelled by the young defensive tackle Aaron Donald having a monster game and showed everyone how could they could be this season.

In fact, against the two teams in their division heading to the post-season, they finished 3-1. They beat the Seahawks twice, they beat the Arizona Cardinals in their own back yard and yet again, they showed promise that they could hang with the best in their division.

However, against a relatively soft schedule, they also showed that they lacked the composure to beat the weaker teams of the NFL. Sure, they got wins against the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but poor losses against the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens must sting when that would take you to a much more respectable 9-7.

Even against some good teams, they allowed their standards to slip enough just to lose. They lost close games to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings  but were soundly beaten by the likes of the Chicago Bears, who managed to put up 37 points, and they were humbled by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Nick Foles has been beyond poor and they need a replacement swiftly.  Source: Fox Sports

Nick Foles has been beyond poor and they need a replacement swiftly. Source: Fox Sports

It’s clear that despite the positives coming from the superb rookie season of Todd Gurley, this teams needs a hell of a lot on offence. They finished last in yards on offence and last in passing yards, showing that they don’t just need a steady quarterback, they need wide receivers and tight ends.

No pass catcher went for more than 700 yards, which is poor but when only three made it over 450 yards and the next best gained 250, that’s pretty appalling. Only three wide receivers caught balls for touchdowns this year, only one tight end managed it and no running backs caught it for a score either.

The shoddy play at quarterback was clear for everyone as Nick Foles threw for just 2052 yards for seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Case Keenum was slightly better, with 4 TDs to 1 INT in a couple of games but when the offensive line allows a league-best 18 sacks all season and the running back goes for 1100 yards in half of a season, that play is inexcusable and the trade was a huge mistake.

Their defence is exciting but at the same time, they finished 23rd in total yards allowed and were not good against the run or the pass. They got the quarterback a fair number of times, with 41 sacks and forced 20 fumbles, with 13 recovered but they were in the middle of the road on interceptions (13) and points allowed (20.6).

However, I think it’s fair to give their defence the benefit of the doubt. They were out there much more often thanks to poor offensive play and I actually think they have done pretty well considering how tired they must have been by the end of games.

Donald is one of the only bright spots this season, he has been sensational, Source: helmet2helmet.com

Donald is one of the only bright spots this season, he has been sensational, Source: helmet2helmet.com

When you combine all of that together, especially since they haven’t had any success under Fisher, why isn’t his head on the chopping block? He’s fired five assistants, that doesn’t include the offensive co-ordinator or even the quarterback coach but does include the WR assistant, but that doesn’t seem like enough to me.

While other former basement dwellers in his division used their young talent to elevate them to beat the strong teams in their division, the Rams are consistently stuck in the middle ground searching for relevancy.

It could be that the Rams are already in a difficult division, it could be that they have some promising youngsters or it could just be that they do not want to upset the apple cart before a potential move to Los Angeles.

Despite any of that, Fisher’s seat has to be the hottest of all of them heading into 2016. Failure again, especially if they do get their move back to California, and there can be no excuses should he be fired.

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The Indianapolis Colts were right to keep Chuck Pagano

Pagano's players want him to stay, so they worked through it.  Source: ESPN

Pagano’s players want him to stay, so they worked through it. Source: ESPN

In news that seemed to send anyone within NFL media into a frenzy on Black Monday, the Indianapolis Colts announced that they were extending the contract of their head coach Chuck Pagano for another four years.

A man many said was a dead man walking all season, struggled to start and managed just an 8-8 record kept his job. That’s despite enormous tension between him and the team’s GM Ryan Grigson, in a surprising twist the two sat down and hammered out their differences, ready to go again in 2016.

Looking back, the heat on Pagano as a coach seemed a little odd. He had helped the team get consecutive 11-5 season, admittedly in a poor division, and had an excellent 3-2 record in the post-season. The head coach helped lead his team to the AFC Championship game last season and while many expected them to go one further, that was clearly an oversight.

Added to this, quarterback Andrew Luck played just seven games and won only two. That could be because he was nursing niggling injuries, which is unlikely, or he just came out cold and was denied the chance to redeem himself fully during the season.

Hopefully Luck can rebound when he's fully recovered next season.  Source: sportsrants.com

Hopefully Luck can rebound when he’s fully recovered next season. Source: sportsrants.com

Clearly, the heat came between the head coach and the general manager, for one reason or another and it looked like the latter would win the power struggle. Despite Pagano doing well with a pretty barren talent base, he was the one that they looked ready to oust even before the season began.

They had some bright spots, their tight end core looks set for the season and they finished 6th in interceptions in the league, which is impressive for a team who allowed 45 and 51 points in consecutive weeks. They threw the ball away too much and even though they sacked offensive co-ordinator Pep Hamilton, their offence did not improve much.

This team was also massively hyped in the off-season as an absolute title contender despite clear deficiencies. They all jumped on Andrew Luck’s incredible upside and ignored the fact that they have still failed to establish a strong run game, their offensive line needs to improve and their defence has a real lack of talent.

Luck’s offensive weapons consistent of a good receiver in T.Y. Hilton, who’s a great deep threat, and some solid tight ends that are improving but he needs a little more around him. It’s clear that it was the high level of coaching that kept them afloat, rather than Pagano’s effort having a detrimental effect on them.

Grigson should be the one under pressure if the team under-performs again.  Source: CBS

Grigson should be the one under pressure if the team under-performs again. Source: CBS

Pagano clearly has the backing of his team, shown by his “final” game last weekend and they know he can take them forward. Crazy fake punts aside, the Colts knew that letting him go would allow another team to pick him up, and some were waiting on it, so why allow him to prove how good he is somewhere else?

Now, the pressure turns on the general manager. They have a first round pick in the middle of the draft they need to nail, they need to shift their focus from past-it veterans and move to really build an elite team around Luck. They were abysmal on the ground yet again, they need to create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and stop allowing so much yardage in the air and against the rush.

Should they fail again, now that Pagano has much more security, it will be Grigson in the firing line. It’s time for them to get off their hands and give one of the best quarterbacks in the league, along with a very solid coach, a team they can coach all the way to the Super Bowl.

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When is the perfect time to sack a manager?

Benitez never had his feet under the desk.  Source: Bleacher Report

Benitez never had his feet under the desk. Source: Bleacher Report

With the sacking of Rafa Benitez yesterday, it seems like there is no better time to look at when it is the right time to dismiss a manager of a football club.

For starters, it should be a difficult decision not done on a whim. Several disappointing results can sting but things can change dramatically in two months’ time and snap decisions have more often than not had pretty dire consequences.

At the same time, when problems arise that may not be fixable, you cannot fear pulling the trigger when change is needed. Even if it’s not seen on the outside or there is an opportunity to get someone better, clubs shouldn’t fear in making a short-term negative decision for a long-term gain.

In the case of Benitez at Real Madrid, it seemed like a marriage doomed to fail from the start. Taking over from a hugely popular coach in Carlo Ancelotti and seen as a poor choice by the fans, the former Liverpool boss was always walking on a tightrope from the minute he walked through the door.

He didn’t seem to have full control of the team, his style clashed with the players at his disposal and people called for his head at the first sign of trouble. Now, with no more options available, Zinedine Zidane takes control much sooner than expected and is thrown right into the deep end.

Van Gaal is on thin ice but if he turns things around, other clubs should take notice.  Source: The Telegraph

Van Gaal is on thin ice but if he turns things around, other clubs should take notice. Source: The Telegraph

Timing a firing can be so difficult, when the pressure to get results is high but the space to bring in new ideas that can work so limited. Without a break like the rest of Europe, where it seems like a logical time to change things, managers have to simplify things before gradually adding their own spin, which takes too much time.

Take a look at Chelsea sacking Jose Mourinho, who had clearly lost the effort of his team and could not find a way to fix things but was then sacked just before the hectic Christmas period. Whether it was right or wrong, Guus Hiddink had little time to fix things and only now does it seem like they are clicking into gear under the Dutchman.

The one to watch will be the rest of Louis van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United, when many other managers would have been dismissed immediately after a fourth loss and a dismal display against Norwich City on Boxing Day.

They may have picked up a few points since then and could be back on the up, if he recovers and creates any kind of success this season or even possibly next season, it may show that sticking by someone might be the best option.

Short-sightedness tends to come with those at the bottom, as we have seen with constant Sunderland managers over the past few years but without a plan in place, teams sink. Newcastle almost fell after not having a plan after Alan Pardew and Norwich took too long to swing the axe on Chris Hughton a few years ago, giving the job to a man who brought them down and was sacked six months later.

Sherwood is prime example of a team rushing a decision without a plan.  Source: The Telegraph

Sherwood is prime example of a team rushing a decision without a plan. Source: The Telegraph

Another example of that poor forward-thinking was the hiring of Tim Sherwood, an unproven manager that ended up saving Aston Villa on the virtue that other teams were worse. He then had a pretty poor summer, the team was not tactically prepared and now Remi Garde is running around in January to fix all the problems he created.

Some sackings felt needless, such as when Mauricio Pochettino took over at Southampton or when Quique Sanchez Flores became the Watford manager, but both have shown why that decision was made. They both had plans, they have a tactical nous that brings the team an identity they can follow and in the long run, both have worked very well.

In the end, long-term ideals need to take much more of a prominent standpoint over possible short-sighted advantages. Bringing someone in to save the club does not mean that same man can take you forward, therefore the thinking has to be that he can deliver for many years rather than for just this season, as it usually leaves a club in a mess.

There may never be the “right” time to sack a manager. The off-season would be much easier, much like in other sports, but with the risk of relegation or not succeeding so high, owners feel compelled to do something as soon as they spot a problem.

What needs to happen is for them to get it right in the first place, a man who will add structure to the entire organisation and build rather than a fire-fighter because, in the long run, that short-term thinking always lands clubs in trouble.

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