Category Archives: Football

The crazy Christmas schedule needs to end

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Southampton have a crazy Christmas schedule that has shown it’s toughness in the last two games. Source: The Mirror

Southampton play Everton today at 3pm.

They lost 2-1 to West Bromwich Albion in the 3pm kick-offs on New Year’s Eve. They played three nights before that in a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at 7:45pm.

Then the Saints go marching into Carrow Road to face Norwich City in the FA Cup before a midweek League Cup semi-final against Liverpool on the 11th. Burnely are then their foes at Turf Moor on the 14th of the first month of 2017.

6 games in seventeen days. A game every 2.8 days. Doesn’t that sound a little absurd to you?

Many will cry out that Christmas football is sacred and cannot be touched. Some will say that English football is a tough man’s game and doesn’t need the siesta seen by those less worthy on the continent.

When you a see a schedule like that for a team, it can’t be excused. In fact, every single team in the Premier League has at least an extra day’s rest than Southampton over the three games this week, a distinct disadvantage both for the now and for the future.

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Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore doesn’t care as long as that truck of money doesn’t stop pulling up at his house. Source: chelseafootballnews.com

That goes for any team in the top flight who could have faced this kind of issue. To those that want to win the Premier League to those fighting to stay in it, they want to play at their full potential each game and that simply isn’t possible with so many games over a short period of time.

This also has a detrimental effect to the product you are watching. Is it any wonder that there will be a few lethargic, uninspiring displays and some terrible mental errors that could cost any team valuable points when they simply could have played them further apart?

What is even more absurd is how spread the games are this year through the period. There isn’t one day where every team is playing, all bowing to the whims of the ever-powerful TV deals that force them to move to their will to cater for their viewing public.

Injuries occur more often when playing in such a short space of time, which must put a real panic in teams that are already short-handed. Fatigue could also set in towards March, when regular internationals have been playing week-in, week-out since August or even since the summer for some, which is only amplified for those from South America who have had long flights on top of that.

Then there’s also the blame that this affects English players in major tournaments. With most of the national squad playing in the Premier League, the tiredness and lack of mental strength shown in the summer at least on the surface looks like it could be down to a long, arduous season, especially with most playing for a Tottenham Hotspur side that had to fight tooth and nail until the very end.

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Can a break really help the international side as well? Or is that just more hope than anything? Source: nytimes.com

So, what is the real answer to fixing the clogging of games at this time of year? Lifting the 3pm kick-off ban so that we can have more teams play on one day without a fuss? Or take a few weeks off either after the traditional Boxing Day fixture or after New Year’s Day to refresh the batteries?

I’d actually like for some real hard evidence to be conducted to prove how much it can affect a player and how important a short-term midseason break can be. It’s easy to point at international tournaments and the fact there’s been no English side in the Champions League final for four years, but before then there was at least one representative on eight out of nine occasions.

It’s true that the players and coaches would absolutely welcome a break, which for many on the continent actually means a week off then more preparation for the restart rather than three weeks dossing. It will give them a chance to restart themselves, for coaches to work their ideas into their teams and get ready for the second half of the season.

Whether it will happen any time in the future is the real question. With the TV companies and the Premier League big-wigs probably seeing it as a great opportunity to take advantage of no overseas competition, it would be difficult to see it coming to fruition any time soon.

But seriously, Southampton’s schedule over the next month is a joke. That can and should be changed next year, it’s isn’t fair in the slightest.

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Why is football punditry so hated?

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Monday Night Football seems to be a fan favourite, so why don’t others follow suit? Source: Daily Mirror

On Saturday evening, many people watching Match of the Day on BBC One HD were without sound for the first 45 minutes or so.

Some would call that a blessing in disguise.

It didn’t matter to this writer, who skips through the analysis in the studio and sticks to the in-game action instead. Even if he did feel like a mad man either watching silence or commentating himself like he was playing Football Manager.

Don’t judge me, please.

But it did lead me to think about something that seems a hot button with everyone these days. Are pundits getting worse? Are they taking a little too much flak? Do we really know what we want from our half-time talking heads?

Let us start with those paid for their opinions. There’s a number of different styles to pick through with all varying degrees of usefulness over every media platform, the know-it-alls, the not-too-risqué and the all-too-risqué.

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Sometimes right, sometimes absolutely wrong, always a little bland, Jamie Redknapp everyone! Source: Sky Sports

Starting with everyone’s favourites with the know-it-alls. These are your Monday Night Football, European football clever-clogs that tell you the little bits you didn’t see and what you should be expecting from your overpaid superstars.

There’s a lot to like about what they bring. They pry through the game long and hard to give you something extra that you might not have caught on first viewing or simply didn’t know about to even look out for.

Sometimes what they can say is overly complicated, sometimes you are left a little lingering, hoping they’d delve in deeper. But the likes of Gary Neville or Jamie Carragher can’t give all their secrets away, otherwise they may be out of a job.

Honestly, there should be more in this category. A few are on the borderline, mainly the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves, but at least these are trying to add something to the game you’ve just watched rather than telling you with words what you’ve already seen with your eyes.

That moves us perfectly on to the next type, the not-too-risqué types. This eclipses most of your pundits you see, the non-offending smart shirt-wearing former professional who doesn’t try to stray too far from the given path.

They may go on a slight angry rant if something has grieved them over the course of the game or if it has been grinding them down in the past few weeks but they stick by the line. Say nothing too untoward, don’t have too much explanation it what has happened and give us a brief overview.

The perfect middle-managers of the pundit world. Keep it short, sharp and to the point so that everyone can understand what is said without making those tuning in feel like morons.

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Two hot-head mouthpieces that should no longer be on television. So fond of butting heads they thought they’d try each other for size. Source: BT Sport

Personally, I don’t have a huge problem with the Jamie Redknapp’s and the Alan Shearer’s of the world. They sometimes come up with something interesting but it’s more of a shame that they don’t go deeper when you want them too.

All in all, they are just a little too vanilla.

For those that prefer the taste of hot sauce and blood, there is the all-too-risqué types. The blood and thunder types that thrive in saying the exact opposite to everyone else just for the kicks and then thrive in their role as the heel to the watching audience.

I shouldn’t even have to mention names here, it’s the ones that sound ridiculous even when they make a valid point. They go over-the-top, get annoyed at the slightest thing and a fair few of them still live in the dark ages where you could kick seven shades of something out of the opponent without consequence.

These glorified shock masters should be culled. A controversial opinion should be welcomed with evidence but they never present any, hoping their shouty and aggressive attitude is enough to convince you that they are right.

So what do we want? The general feeling as we just want something added to our content. The more conscious viewer of the modern age wants analysis that gives us more of a “why” instead of a “how”, examples to show us both and ideas that give us though on how our own teams perform on a weekly basis.

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An example of what we could see, the European Football Show is always an interesting watch. Source: BT

We want stories, insight into the different teams and the reasons why certain things are done in a certain way. For example, the excellent panel of journalists on the European Football Show always come packed with little tid-bits on every team or even player that adds to the experience, even if they aren’t ex-pros that “know” every in and out.

Which is why there’s such a backlash against the status quo. We aren’t Neanderthals any more, the holier-than-thou attitude from those that act like it simply because they were gifted the talent to make a career out of it does not mean they can look down on us that only have the mind as sharp.

It’s proven in some of the absolutely outstanding work done out there by writers across Europe, by the superb stuff done by analysists and the social media age that have given us more access than ever. Former agents, coaches, scouts have given us tools we could have only hoped for in the past and it’s time for ex-pros to step up their game in time with that.

Overall, punditry should continue to be varied and give us a little more on every broadcast. The additions like those from writers and even ex-referees explaining decisions thoroughly without any bias has given us more, stating the rules as they are written rather than with the tinted glasses of a footballer.

The hope is that the current generation coming through are watching the love for the likes of Neville and Carragher and they follow suit. Give us a little more, fill our minds with your knowledge and more importantly, stop those who can fast-forwarding.

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RB Leipzig are the blueprint of how to make a football club

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Keita has been terrific and the win against Dortmund lit the fir under the RB machine. Source: ESPN

Germany doesn’t particularly like it but there’s no denying that RasenBallsport Leipzig have nailed exactly how to create a football club.

Loathed for not being a traditional Deutschland club, having been born by drinks company Red Bull in 2009, they lead the Bundesliga having been unbeaten so far this season. They invested in a young, exciting squad with the potential to grow, either as part of the team or to sell on, and have also ploughed money into state-of-the-art facilities themselves to grow as a club themselves.

If you want to learn a little more, check out this great piece by Ross Dunbar on Fox Sports Asia here.

However, what they have done in the past is not what I wanted to focus on. Having watched them on TV once or twice, finally seeing them against Bayer Leverkusen live a few weeks ago just confirmed it: Ralph Hasenhuttl, along with sporting director Ralf Rangnick, have created a side that are genuine title contenders at the time of writing.

A team doesn’t remain this long unbeaten by just luck alone. Wins at home to Borussia Dortmund and away at the aforementioned Leverkusen only confirms it and when you look into how they have succeed, it becomes much clearer.

They’ve scored as many goals as BvB, they have only conceded more than Bayern Munich and another surprise package in Cologne and they have created entertainment wherever they go. They are fast, they are creative, they are strong and when on song, they can be electric.

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Forsberg has been stellar and has been the best player in the Bundesliga this season. Source: BBC

The real engine of the Leipzig machine is Swedish international Emil Forsberg. A relative unknown on the European scene with his former club Malmo, the 25-year-old has exploded this season as the main man for RB with five goals and seven assists.

Those statlines are impressive enough but when you watch Forsberg play, you understand his influence. He’s an incredibly clever player always looking for avenues to bring the abundance of quick, dangerous attacking players that are around him into areas that hurt the opposition.

The Swede always plays with his head up, eyes wandering to find an avenue to attack an opponent. He has wonderful close ball control, a surprising burst that allows him to seemingly drift past tackles and a wand for a foot that can either pick a locked defence or waft a set piece into the goal.

It’s not hard to say without him, it’s unlikely that Leipzig would still be unbeaten. He is the real heartbeat, piecing together their stern defence and their frightening attack to create a real behemoth that no one has worked out how to stop.

That’s not to say he’s the only one firing on all cylinders. Naby Keita has been superb in a box-to-box role, seemingly popping up all over the pitch to break up play and occasionally break into the final third, where he has picked up four goals so far.

Their defence is marshalled by Willy Orban, who has organised them well with his power and positioning into the joint-second best defence in the Bundesliga. They have a scary front that includes top scorer Timo Werner, Austrian winger Marcel Sabitzer, Danish striker Yussuf Poulsen, former Werder Bremen man Davie Selke and Scottish international Oliver Burke.

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Hasenhuttl has established a style and a solidity to Leipzig that has worked to perfection. Source: T-online.de

The amount of options they have in those attacking areas are staggering, especially when you then look at the stats. Each has scored and assisted at least once, with Werner excelling with seven goals and two assists. That’s not to diminish Sabitzer’s contribution of four goals and three assists or Burke’s goal and two assists from predominantly substitute appearances.

With that said, they could do with more from either Poulsen or Selke in terms of hitting the back of the net but their size and power really compliment the speed and creativity around them. It’s genuinely scary that the main strikers aren’t quite firing and yet they still lead the standings.

Hastenhuttl has also established an exciting style build on a collective strength based on restricting the opponent. They constrict the opponent when they have the ball, boxing them into a small area without easy options and can restrict them to the point of them giving them the ball, allowing them to use Forsberg and their pace to counter.

Where they need to improve in that regard is to work on being countered themselves and stopping teams playing quickly against them. When they are not allowed to settle into their structure, they can be opened up a little too easily and quick play has seen teams get in behind their defence too often.

That still feels like nit-picking on a fantastic start to the season that was built upon solid foundations that should help grow success in the future. While the next stage of their success will be in the air for a while, producing talent of your own in any club changing its culture can take five-to-ten years to bear fruit but they have started on the right track.

They have a real project that is attracting young players wishing to create their own history and if they can keep them on-board to maintain this start, we could have a new name near the head of the Bundesliga table for years to come.

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Alan Pardew: A man on the edge

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Pardew’s time is surely running out at Crystal Palace. Source: The Mirror

Some may call him a fraud, some may call him a spinster, others may say genius. Alan Pardew has been a polarising figure throughout his managerial career but he has always come out with his head high and his grin as wide as ever.

However, a bad result at the weekend should rightfully end his current run with Crystal Palace and with it will likely go his last chance both in the Premier League and at taking the national job.

Pardew’s managerial career has ebbed and flowed. It started well at Reading, he got the club promoted out of the then-Division Two before making the playoffs in his first season in England’s second tier.

At West Ham, he struggled initially before getting them into the Premier League on the second time of asking in 2005. A ninth placed finished followed along with an FA Cup final before the club’s worst run of results in 70 years eventually saw him relieved of his duties in December 2006.

Charlton then came calling and after he failed to keep them up despite an up-turn in form, he then failed to get them straight back up again. With the club in the bottom three after another poor start, he was sacked.

He then joined the Southampton revolution, helping them almost get into the playoffs despite a 10-point deduction at the start of the season. He also won the Football League Trophy before succumbing to the axe again after a string of poor results and reported low morale with staff and a poor relationship with the club chairman.

Somehow, some way, he became Newcastle United manager. After a 12th placed finish, a slew of great signings headed by chief scout Graham Carr helped the club get into the European spots and saw Pardew named Premier League Manager of the Year.

He then signed an eight-year contract extention.

After an average 2012-13 season, results dipped dramatically to end the following season. They lost 15 out of their last 21 games and the fans turned on him, despite finishing the season well above the dropzone and leading the time to six wins in a row in all competitions before leaving for Palace.

But this was where the trend continues. After a good start and a splash of cash, Palace have tumbled to the worst points-per-game ratio of any team in the 92 professional football clubs in 2016.

They did make an FA Cup final in that time as well, but it’s not enough to forgive a run of form that would have seen almost any manager in a similar position sacked. His win percentage is not bad at 41.5% but he’s also lost almost 45% of those games in charge.

He isn’t particularly tactically adept, simply working with what he’s given and hoping for the best. Sometimes it’s been with a 4-4-2 at Newcastle, that spiralled out when the two strikers were not of the quality of those previously or when the help diminished, or sometimes it’s a 4-3-3 with two quick wide men yet his defenders have seemingly forgotten how to defend, which is another trend.

Just look at the last five games. They lost all five, scoring six but conceding a whopping 13, including threes against struggling attacking sides like Leicester City and Burnley. They may argue that they were unlucky in a few of them but you can’t be unlucky for almost an entire year.

Add to that the controversies he’s had, including bust-ups with managers and a moment where headbutted an opposition player and you begin to wonder how he’s got work so easily.

Is it his cheesy grin? Is it his slimy, aggressive personality or is it his dad-dancing that puts the cherry on top.

Hopefully, Swansea City can put the final nail in his coffin. A man that is the epitome of “new manager syndrome”, Pardew can only hold on to this charade for a little bit longer.

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No one has an answer for Chelsea’s dominant 3-4-3

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Conte has turned Chelsea into a ruthless offensive machine. Source: The Indian Express

After a muddling start to the season, people began to question whether Chelsea could recover from an abysmal season. With the same failings, as last year happening again, doubting that Antonio Conte really the savior and looked more like just another pretender to the throne.

However, five games on, five wins and everyone is purring at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are a roaring lion that are putting everyone else in the division to the sword at the moment, so what has changed?

First of all, the 3-4-3 formation has really brought the best out of this group of players. The favoured formation of Conte back at Juventus, it allows both attacking full-backs and wide players without too much danger of being caught on the counter attack.

How it works like that should be pretty clear from the setup, three centre-backs and two defensive-minded central midfielders hold the fort. The two wing-backs are encouraged to join in with attacking play, allowing a former winger like Victor Moses to be a success as almost an extra wide player rather than some tasked with simply defending and joining in when they can.

With that behind them, it allows the three forwards to sit high up the pitch without any stringent defensive responsibilities. Keeping the likes of Eden Hazard and Pedro up the field has caused defences nightmares, freeing them to counter-attack and run at will, with devastating results.

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Hazard has rediscovered his devastating form. Source: The Telegraph

Especially in Hazard, who has been reborn under Conte and this formation. Five goals and an assist in his last four fixtures shows how being further up the pitch more often has affected him and with his confidence flowing back in his veins, he has returned to his scarily impressive best.

That attacking ability combined with a strong core has been a force no one has worked out how to unlock. Teams seem to allow Chelsea to push further and further up field, overloading four and even five man defences with too many bodies as they recycle possession in your half to start it all over again.

It was good against Hull City and Leicester City but the real statement of intent came against Manchester United. After an early goal, they absolutely dominated the Red Devils by keeping possession and the two wingers in narrow positions bamboozled a four-man defence.

Forced to bring their wingers back to help, United were essentially left with a six-man back line that could not counter attack in fear of giving Chelsea too much space in the final third. The Blues never let up, continuously pushed and repeatedly found space in dangerous attacking areas to grab four well deserved goals.

Worryingly for everyone else, they seemed to do even more in their 5-0 thumping of Everton at the weekend. As they continue to settle and find a rhythm in the new formation, they are finding even more exploits against teams that are even looking to set up as a counter.

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Moses has really blossomed in his new role and has finally found a home at Stamford Bridge. Source: The Telegraph

With Ronald Koeman playing a 5-3-2, he looked to match Chelsea in the key areas and make sure his team were not overloaded when Chelsea were in possession. Instead, the slick interchanging of passing in the final third killed them off, Conte’s men have simply created a great understanding quickly of this formation and add confidence to that, you can see the results.

It was fast-flowing, unselfish football at its best. All they did was shock and awe Everton with their passing play, not allowing them a moment’s rest and without an outlet to get the Toffees further up the pitch, Chelsea simply picked them off at will.

So how do you solve the riddle? Do you attack at will, hoping to overpower them? Do you defend like your lives depend on it? Do you try to counter through the wide areas left exposed when Chelsea push too far forward?

It’s quite possibly a mixture of them all but much like anything in world football, eventually someone will work a worthy counter. The two-game run against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City will be the biggest test that will really show if this formation makes Chelsea title front-runners or just another within an ever-increasing pack.

What it has been is a breath of fresh air. It’s always interesting to see something a little different in the Premier League and Conte has done that, with a thoroughly interesting formation that has left his opponents perplexed, at least for now.

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This is the year Sunderland don’t make the great escape happen

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A one proud career has slowly drifted down the drain for David Moyes. Source: Sky Sports

“Sunderland are in trouble” is a statement that seems to come around every single Premier League season. They start a season with optimism that fades rapidly, then for a manager to get sacked only for another man to come in and save them before the cycle repeats again.

However, this season is when they break that cycle. This year, the Black Cats have run out of lives.

10 games in, Sunderland have just two points, a new Premier League record. They have scored seven goals, the worst in the division, and have conceded 20, the second-worst record in the division.

Those plain statistics are bad enough but when you take a magnifying glass into why they have been so poor in every category and you start seeing what looks like the end of the Stadium of Light in the top flight.

Let’s start with the points total, with draws coming against Southampton and West Bromwich Albion. The first, against a notoriously slow side with a new manager, could have been a home win if they held out but an 85th minute goal from Jay Rodriguez put a pin in that idea.

In the West Brom game, they fought back to get a point in the final minute. In two games against big sides, Manchester City and Arsenal, they managed to pull back level after starting slowly but simply don’t have the quality to deny them for an entire game.

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Rodwell must be sick of starting, Kone was ripped apart by Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football. Source: mancity.com

A lot of the others were simple wins for the opposition but the Crystal Palace defeat was the toughest pill to swallow. They went 2-0 up and in full control, only for the defence to buckle almost immediately and with a lack of commanding leadership at the back, they lost 3-2.

The attack has been abysmal and would have been even worse without Jermaine Defoe. The former England international has five of those seven goals, Patrick van Aanholt has the other two, which really highlights the real lack of quality coming from their midfield.

Add to that, the club have only had two assists all season, one from Duncan Watmore and one from Jack Rodwell. While the latter will be lampooned for not being part of a winning starting line-up in 33 games, which is an astonishing statistic, it should be the other creative flair players that should take the real flack.

Former Moyes favourite Steven Pienaar looks past his best, while both Wahbi Khazri and Adnan Januzaj are luxury players that a club like this can ill-afford to carry. None are particularly defensive-minded, none have contributed in the way they should have and Moyes playing at least two of them each game along with Watmore shows a real disregard for their current plight.

Mix in a dash of Jan Kirchoff not continuing to impress and Didier Ndong slowly adapting to the Premier League and you have an awful mix. It’s haphazard, Moyes is constantly shifting players in and out, praying he can find a combination that will work.

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Adnan Januzaj was a luxury loan signing that Sunderland can ill-afford to pull through a season. Source: The Telegraph

Finally, their defence, who have looked as bamboozled as ever. Lamine Kone looks like he’s still pouting from not getting a move away, John O’Shea is a leader but not much else anymore and Papy Djilibodji trying to do something of note.

It’s a shame that Younes Kaboul is out but combined with modern attack-minded full backs and it’s easy to see why they concede so often. It’s soft in the centre, where big strikers have really flourished and the quick players are causing havoc to their lack of pace in the middle.

In all honesty, it’s been a surprise that Sunderland have got this far. It might have been a little different if Sam Allardyce was still at the helm but at the same time, it’s clear that this team needs a lot more than him to get them going.

Their chopping, swapping and praying has finally caught up with them. They will try to begin the cycle again come December but when the new man fails to lift them out of the mire, the fans will finally come to terms that the bell tolls for them this season.

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England have finally beaten me

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My England emotions in one photo. Source: nytimes.com

Later on this evening, England take on Slovenia and for the first time in a long while, I don’t care.

At all. Even with Wayne Rooney dropped.

That may not seem like the biggest revelation to most, but from someone that will watch any kind of football, who has sat through the dullest of 0-0 draws in Ligue 1 on a Friday evening, it feels like a watershed moment.

It could stem from the years of being beat over the head. Many say England are destined for failure in major tournaments, there’s a reason why they haven’t won one in 50 years, but the past few campaigns have been full of vapid, lackless movement towards something at least slightly positive.

That began with the dire campaign of 2010, where England scraped through a simple group before being soundly beaten by a far superior German side. That then should have been the real eye-opening moment for The FA, to change the way we go about football and how we develop the next team with a real identity.

Instead, we didn’t. We middle to EURO 2012, where Fabio Capello was replaced by Roy Hodgson months before the tournament and we allowed ourselves to accept a poor display with such a significant change happening so close to the start.

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Hodgson was frankly a mess that England needed to rebound from, they haven’t. Source: The Guardian

Then came the World Cup in 2014, where Hodgson should be showing a team that have the potential to do something in the near future. What we got was a team that could not compete with an aging Italian squad, a solid Uruguay team and the surprise package in Costa Rica.

Surely then, we would open our eyes.

We didn’t. We were lulled into a false sense of confidence via a perfect qualifying campaign and an exciting Premier League season that showed we had a little more talent than we thought. But again, we limped through an average group before being outclassed and out-thought by a brave Iceland team.

A light flickered when Sam Allardyce was appointed, that maybe we could see something different. We did not, we saw exactly the same that we had seen for six years before he tittered off into the night with his big payoff and reputation in tatters.

Enough is enough. The FA has spouted about a plan and an identity for years and now is the time something convincing and achievable is put on the table because at this time, people are not invested anymore.

You can only watch so much of the same thing without any movement for so long. Many might say that there isn’t enough time with the players and that they have to fit in different systems but if other nations can manage to do it, why can’t we?

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FA CEO Martin Glenn is not a “football man”, in his own words. What an excellent man to lead us. Source: TheFA.com

The case for international football has always been that you should be proud to represent your country. That celebrating where you are from against other nations, along with your fellow man, should be the absolute measure of pride within the game of football.

But the reality is that, it isn’t any more. Most players care about the Champions League or winning silverware with their club, along with rightfully lining their pockets for as long as they can in their short careers, with only those that have achieved everything that feel like this is the last hurdle to overcome.

The prime example is Cristiano Ronaldo in the EURO 2016 final as he gave everything, even on the bench while injured, to get his team over the line. When was the last time you saw that from anyone in an England shirt, begging his team to push on and go that extra yard?

That’s right, you haven’t. We’ve sunken so low that it will take a behemoth to really shift this nation of its perceived perch, kick the solution into gear and get them on the path to at least giving everything again.

Last week, Eidur Gudjohnsen said that Iceland manager Lars Lagerbeck pointed out that England were the “most overrated national team side” and he could not have been more right. The hope will be that the next man up, whether it be Gareth Southgate or anyone, has the balls to tell the players that to their faces.

Only then might I come back into the fold myself.

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England can recover under Sam Allardyce

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Allardyce is set to get the job he has always wanted. Source: Sky Sports

While not official until Sunderland come to terms with the move and get the compensation they feel they deserve, Sam Allardyce is set to become the new England manager. News that fills some with anger, some with apathy and some with delight, Allardyce could be the ideal man that the national team need in a moment of crisis.

Before we all get a little too high-and-mighty about our national squad, remember that we have just had the worst World Cup campaign for a long time and were humiliated by a far smaller nation in the European Championships. This is a time where a side on the edge of a younger generation that will need a big lift, the former Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers and West Ham United manager is the perfect person to perk up their spirits and give them a sterner jaw.

By now, we all know what Big Sam brings to the table. Stability, the capability to get the best out of his players and the capacity to grind out those results when they are needed. It’s not always pretty and his style is often criticised but he has yet to not get the job done.

That’s also to mention that Allardyce is not a tactical genius, he will set the team up to be as solid as they can and to get the ball forward quickly. He showed last season with Sunderland that he does not need a big target man to work his system, Jermaine Defoe showed just that, and on evidence from the European Championships he is not outclassed by many on the current international scene.

However, there has been evidence that players do get on his side. He has never been relegated from the top flight, keeping numerous sides up while gaining loyalty throughout his Premier League journey and there will plenty of players delighted to see him take the reins.

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If he can get them going and grind out results, maybe we might see more scenes like this. Source: Premier League

He also had great endorsments from the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, you will struggle to get someone better than that, and he’s been desperate for this job for so long. He will give his all, he will not be afraid of making any difficult decisions and as previous evidence shows, it will not be long before the players are fully behind him.

We are also in a generation where top managers do not really see international jobs as the pinnacle. Many are more enthralled by the best club positions in Europe and with that being the case, Allardyce will not be out of his depth as many naysayers feel he will be.

The FA’s decision to skip young options like Eddie Howe, Gareth Southgate or even Sean Dyche was also a wise move. Give them more time to grow and gain experience, allow them the chance to fail or try their hand at a bigger club before passing the reigns down to the exciting coaching prospects we are beginning to build.

Allardyce is the man England need and the FA deserve. There has been a dearth of solid English coaches in the past ten or so years and that has led to someone who was fighting relegation to get the biggest job in the country in many people’s eyes.

It’s now his time to pick these players up from a heavy blow this summer, give them the confidence and the freedom to perform at the level they need to be at come the World Cup in two years. At least for us viewers, Big Sam will not hide from the task at hand.

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Luke Shaw will feel like a new signing to Manchester United

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It’s great to see Luke Shaw take a football field again.Source: Sky Sports

It has been quite the wait but on Saturday afternoon, Manchester United left back Luke Shaw finally stepped back on to a football pitch.

Back in September, the England international suffered a double fracture of his right leg in the club’s Champions League tie against PSV Eindhoven that ended his season prematurely. It has been a long road back to full fitness, a tough one when it’s for such a long period, but United fans will be delighted to see him again.

After an outstanding season at Southampton under Mauricio Pochettino two years ago, the youngster made the big-money move to Old Trafford that summer. Many baulked at the reported £30 million figure but those at the helm in Manchester knew they were investing in a potentially world class full back in the future.

Those critics were not silenced in his first season at the club, where he struggled both for consistency on the pitch and staying on it. Despite that, many still believed that he would come good in time and with a full summer off, he would return firing on all cylinders.

From the beginning of the 2015-16 season, you could see that the enthralling attacking full back had returned. He had a spring in his step and with encouragement from then-boss Louis van Gaal, who had criticised his weight in the past, Shaw began to really establish himself again.

That attacking instinct returned, where he would fly past his winger and venture towards the by-line. His speed also allowed him to catch up defensively and on both sides of the ball, he made himself an extra weapon to the club’s arsenal that they really needed as they occasionally stifled themselves creatively.

He was the change of pace, he made something happen and he was that extra bit of spice to their attacking play.

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This was a heartbreaking moment in what will hopefully only be a footnote in a long career. Source: Sky Sports

Just as he was starting to fly, his wings were clipped. A lot of onlookers would have said that Shaw was possibly United’s best player for the first few games of the season and were completely gutted when he was struck down on that one night in the Netherlands.

While he went to recover, United struggled to fill the void. Daley Blind was now a centre-back, Marcos Rojo was in the bad books and injuries to Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young meant that Matteo Darmain was their only real option but he needed to play at right-back.

When they did find a suitable replacement in another youngster, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, he too was struck down with injuries that interrupted his steady rise. It was a position of weakness throughout the season and Shaw’s return shores that gap up dramatically.

As for England, they have a surprising amount of interesting full-backs to choose from now. Both Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand have impressed for their clubs but with neither really making the place in the national team their own, there’s a real chance that Shaw could be the answer in that team as well.

There’s no doubt that it’s fantastic to see Shaw back on a football field, both for club and country. Not only is he a terrific young talent that can become a star, he has shown that he has a strong mentality to fight back and he will be ready come August to show everyone what they’ve been missing.

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Euro 2016 proves the gap is closer than ever before

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Portugal were never spectacular but they worked hard to get all the way to the title. Source: The Star

After a bustling four-and-a-bit weeks in France, the European Championships are over and Portugal outlasted everyone to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy. Full of tactical football, defensive football and the ever so fleeting flicker of genius, it has been a tournament that flattered to deceive and revealed that the gap to the top is not as wide as many perceived it to be.

Before it started, many had hoped that we would see an exciting young French team, which we saw in spurts, or the resurgence of the world champions but Germany were poor without Mario Gomez in the side, which is a statement within itself. Others thought Spain could roll back the years but they only managed it for one evening, or England to end the hurt but they instead decided to inflict more of it.

There have been a lot of criticism for the lack of high-level coaching in international football and that’s entirely justified. The difference between someone like Antonio Conte of Italy, who took a underwhelming side on paper and made them look like a powerhouse that could even switch formations at a whim without losing much, to Marc Wilmots of Belgium, who turned a superstar team into a disheveled bunch of Sunday footballers, was incredibly stark.

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Spain disappointed and were outclassed by two more tactically aware sides. Source: ESPN

What also stood out was the difficulty of the bigger sides with prominent talents struggling to break down an organised defence. Germany, France, Spain, Belgium and England were all lacking ideas against teams that set up shop to stop them from scoring and the lack of ideas were startling at times, with some getting lucky and some bombarding the opponent until they finally allowed one to trickle home.

That’s also being a little unkind to some of the smaller nations in Europe that showed exactly why they qualified and that they can go with the best of them. Iceland were so well drilled, Wales’ counter-attacks were often so efficient, Hungary were not afraid to have a go at anyone, they all showed off that they have much more than people gave them credit for.

Attacking prowess was really at an all-time low in this tournament, with even star number nines struggling to have a big impact. A lot of teams leading up to the tournament looked short of strikers but even the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane, who have had fantastic seasons at club level, failed to make a huge impact.

In fact, only four strikers made the top 10 goalscorers list, which would include Antoine Griezmann, Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud and Mario Gomez. Others like Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale were used as forwards but aren’t natural central players that we have seen in years gone by.

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Wales epitomised this tournament with their hard work and can-do attitude. Source: indianexpress.com

Instead, it was defences that reigned supreme and some of the real standouts of the tournament were centre backs. Leonardo Bonucci was sensational as both a custodian at the back as well as a creative force, Jerome Boateng showed how much he’s grown in the past year as a frighteningly athletic defender and Pepe reminded everyone that even though he picks up the bad reputation as a diver, he is also a world class centre back.

Overall, it was entertaining and had its moments but Euro 2016 never really burst into life the way many hoped it would. There were some standout games and some heroically memorable performances but it never quite pushed itself over the average barrier it set itself from the off.

Shamefully, this tournament will also be marred by fan unrest at the start of the tournament and the scenes we saw at the end of the England and Russia game in Marseille. On the other side of the coin, many won’t forget the scenes of both Republic of Ireland fans and Northern Ireland fans gave, especially the latter rocking stadiums about a striker that never saw a minute of play.

It will be remembered for a long time though, reminding everyone again what you can achieve in football. Even with a lower standard of player to choose from, even against some of the best in the world and even when your star man is out for the count, you can still pull something a little special out of the bag.

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