Category Archives: Back Page Football

The Manchester Derby: Through Red Eyes

Originally posted on Back Page Football.

I usually try and wait till Monday afternoon to write anything about the weekend’s game – it give some time to collect my thoughts and consider what actually happened. Today, I won’t be doing anything of the sort.

As a Manchester United fan, Derby Day is always the best game of the season. Until today. The 6-1 drubbing, at home, against Manchester City is the worst result I have seen in my 18 years on this planet. I’ve lived the glory days at Old Trafford – a season without a trophy is a disappointment to me. And seeing my beloved team getting crushed like that makes it even worse.

Already, the media is asking what significance this game has on the title, and the footballing power shift in Manchester. In reality, one game won’t change history, but certainly one game can feel like it. We are all being far too hasty in considering the influence of this game, but what happened on that pitch this afternoon certainly gives us a good idea on where this Premier League is heading.

I said at the start of the game that I was scared and terrified of this derby. I remember my first derby – February 2003, and after nine seconds on the pitch, Shaun Goater headed in from a corner to give City a 1-1 draw. I also remember the 4-1 drubbing we received a few years back, and having to trudge into school the next day to have every anti-United kid take the mick in the playground. Playgrounds can be cruel, can’t they?

Today is the worst defeat I’ve ever witnessed. There was just so much wrong with the team that it became quite hysterical. I’ve said all season that with Anderson in midfield, there is no midfield. When we played with Cleverley, we had a static midfielder very similar to the role played by Paul Scholes – spraying balls up and down the pitch, attempting to attack and always winning the ball back. Without Cleverley, or the experience of Michael Carrick, playing the attacking-minded Anderson in that static role is catastrophic, and our midfield has been non-existent since.

The reason City bossed the midfield today was because United didn’t actually have one. For forty minutes in the second half, Darren Fletcher had to play at right-back, with Anderson being our only midfielder, trying to play against the might of Yaya Toure, James Milner, Gareth Barry, and arguably the best signing of the summer, David Silva.

Not only that, but our defence just dissolved into the background. Rio looks like he’s well past his best – slow, lethargic, and actually, as one of the most experienced players we have in the team, not loud enough. As someone who has captained the team on many occasions, he should be the one organising, moaning and ensuring the team play to their best. Instead, he was quiet and willing to blend in, and that’s why we had no structure. Jones should have started, Smalling had a shocker at right-back, and the less said about the immaturity and the youthful nature of Jonny Evans, the better.

Rio also has a car waiting to take him to the NFL game this evening at Wembley. If he chooses to go to the game, I am of a firm belief that that would spell the end of his Manchester United career. Already, we see him rested for big games and being left out of squads, and he’s been linked time and time again this season with a big-money move to the States. Factor in all the newspaper allegations against him, and it’s no wonder his head is all over the place. He deserves everything he gets if he chooses to go the game later.

What makes me worry the most, however, is Nemanja Vidic. He was fit today, and prepared to play, yet he didn’t even feature on the bench. As club captain of the team, does this indicate not all is as it seems? Since the Norwich game in early October, United have been poor – not quite themselves. Are there things going on behind the scenes that no-one wants us to know? Or are we going to see movement in January that could lead to big defensive changes? I hope not.

Tactics today for United were poor, but spot-on for City. Give them their due, Balotelli was inspired today, and Dzeko put in a shift in the last 10 minutes that every United player should have attempted to replicate. Silva was the player every fan hoped he would be – quick, intelligent, energetic, and skilful, and it was a joy to see. Defence was well organised, and the whole team was structured well whenever, on those very rare occasions, United attacked. Vincent Kompany as captain knows exactly what to do, and he could be their catalyst for trophies and that coveted Premier League title.

It does make you wonder what kind of an impact Wesley Sneijder would have had on that game. The transfer that never was this summer could have made all the difference. Early performances from Anderson, Cleverley, Carrick and Fletcher indicated that we didn’t need him, but boy do we need someone with an attacking mind, and proven ability now. It’s a scary proposition that it’s only October, and we play like that.

City didn’t even play to their best – they just had a great day, whereas United had one of the worst in recent times. The only positive United can take from that is that it can’t get any worse from here. An absolute thumping to our arch rivals, at home, which could potentially decide the new home of the Premier League. The worst thing you can do now is to write off United – how many times have we been in this position in the past? A few bad performances, a lack of goals and a sinking position in the table…

Make no qualms about it – City are by far and away a force in Europe, and they will win trophies in the future, and will reignite football. Today felt very reminiscent of the Champions League final last season against Barcelona – a footballing masterclass. Everything that could have gone wrong did, and we felt the wrath of that. But heads high, brush ourselves down and take it on the chin. And let’s see where that takes us.

This probably comes across very biased, but I feel that actually, we deserved everything we got today. Nothing hurts more than a defeat to a rival, but such a big defeat doesn’t hurt. Two or three goals is embarrassing, four or five is humiliating, but six proves there’s something more to it; something deeper. Fergie has a lot of work to do with this team in order to place us back where we need to be. A faultless performance from City today, and a destructive one by United. I just hope that whatever these issues are are fixed quickly, easily, and out of the eye of the media.

Agree? Disagree?! Contact me on Twitter – I’m @Adam9309, or use the official site account – @bpfootball!


Will The Stadium Samba Subside Through Travel?

Originally posted on Back Page Football.

Late Thursday night saw the schedule for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil released to the public for the first time, and the extent of the travelling for each team was unveiled alongside it. And it’s not a pretty sight.

The second team within Group A, alongside Brazil, will have a 2,000 mile trip from their first game to their second – from the south-east city of Sao Paulo to the northern city of Manaus. The travel will have a massive impact on fatigue and fitness throughout the tournament, and FIFA have tried to combat this by instigating a plan for four days between matches for teams with long-distance travel.

For UK viewers, games will be at awkward times too – kick-offs vary from 5PM, 8PM, 11PM and 2AM, with the knock-out stages being around the 9PM mark. Gone will be the early morning starts at school to watch the game, or the online streaming of matches at work in the hope the boss won’t see.

But my question is this – will the World Cup in Brazil be ruined by the distance between stadia?

In short, yes, of course it will be. What makes the World Cup so great is the spectacle, and the fans – all those people who travel from around the globe in order to see their nation attempt to become the best footballing nation in the world. A massive drive, flight or ferry trip across the country will stop most fans from appearing at several games, and the fact FIFA have stopped the initial plans of keeping countries in smaller areas of the country, in order to keep the travelling to a minimum. This will have a great effect on the atmosphere at games, but the Brazilian people will of course fill up the seats and create a party round the pitch, which could be absolutely fascinating to see.

The stadia could pull it round, however. This will be the first World Cup to use 12 different stadia – six are brand-new, four are being upgraded, one is being rebuilt, and the other is the Maracana. Arguably the best stadium in the world.

What I have noticed with the stadia, however, is that eight of the announced designs or existing stadia are circular. Whether this will make a difference to the atmosphere, I don’t know, but the Maracana has proven time and time again that some of the most incredible crowds can be found in a round arena. This may be the fans, but it could be the way the stadium has been built – we’ll have to wait and see.

The likelihood of the tournament being a flop is very, very small, yet the distance each team and their fans will have to travel is monumental, and could have a distinct effect on how Brazil 2014 is remembered in years to come.

Agree? Disagree?! Contact me on Twitter – I’m @Adam9309, or use the official site account – @bpfootball!


Is Becks Still A Prized Asset?

Originally posted on Back Page Football.

If you wade through all the media articles, the big billboards, the magazine adverts, the fragrances, the shirt sales, the fashion range, the big PR bubble surrounding him and all those multi-million pound endorsements, there’s still a very gifted footballer. And his name is David Beckham.

That shy schoolboy from Leytonstone pulled on the red of Manchester United in 1993, and hasn’t looked back since. He has grown into the world’s most famous footballer, becoming a global sensation, and having every move tracked by the media.

Stints with Real Madrid, LA Galaxy and AC Milan have led to him becoming even more well known across Europe and the Americas, and he’s now the richest footballer of all-time, worth an estimated £135m. And that wealth just keeps growing, too.

His $6.5m a season contract with the MLS, licensed to LA Galaxy, expires at the end of the year, and Beckham will have to make a decision on his future at the end of post-season on November 20th. Then he has a choice of staying in LA, moving back to England with the possibility of Tottenham or QPR, or, as reported today, a chance of ending up in France, joining the revolution at PSG. All of which will more than likely be just as lucrative as his current contract.

But is Beckham really worth it? At 36, he’s certainly past his prime, but does that mean he’s not as good as he once was?

22 games, 2 goals and 14 assists – yeah, he’s still alright…

David Beckham is still one of the most talented and gifted players around – he’d still make it into the starting line-up of the majority of Europe’s biggest clubs. He’s still an international player – very rarely is a player of 36 still playing top football for his country. He’s also quite likely to lead us to the Olympics next year, too – indicating just how good a player he still is.

Still, nobody can pass a ball better than him. Nor can they cross better, or take set-pieces as well. He truly is a one-of-a-kind player, and lucky enough for the England team, he plays for them. Without him, they’d have been half the team they were between 2000 and 2006.

To answer my original question, yes, he most certainly is a prized asset. The likelihood of any team turning down David Beckham is very slim. It is testimony to him that Sir Alex Ferguson would have him back to Manchester United. He is an inspirational figurehead for the Beautiful Game.

Agree? Disagree?! Contact me on Twitter – I’m @Adam9309, or use the official site account – @bpfootball!


And The Silly Season Begins…

Originally posted on Back Page Football.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece about how England’s youth were becoming a very exciting prospect. A few days ago, those predictions became quite the reality, with the U21s winning 3-0 against Iceland U21s, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scoring a hat-trick to continue their perfect start to the qualifying stage of the Euro 2013 U21 Championships. Much is expected of the Ox, and fellow countrymen, and last night lived up to expectations.

And Arsenal fans are hoping much of the same from Oxlade-Chamberlain, in order to reignite their season. Performances have left a lot to be desired, and despite playing their best football of the season so far against Tottenham in the North London derby just before the international break, some fans are very slowly beginning to question Arsene Wenger’s position at the club.

And that questioning can only mean one thing – Sacking Season is well on the way. October usually signals the time a club’s boardroom door swings shut on another manager, and we begin to see the steady trail of managers heading to the Job Centre.

Peter Reid was our first victim at cash-strapped Plymouth Argyle, and he was very quickly followed by the head of Sean O’Driscoll over at Doncaster Rovers. Steve McClaren resigned days later at Nottingham Forest after a tough start to the season, and Keith Millen disappeared from the helm of Bristol City a day later. And it’s only coming up to the second week of October…

It seems strange that this is where the game finds itself now. The amount of money involved in the game means it is vital for success, and if that success doesn’t seem to be appearing within the first 10 games, start looking for the P45s…

A BBC report this week discovered that in the 2010/11 season, £99m was spent on compensation, legal fees, and double contracts, in order to relieve a manager of his duties. Between August and July last season, 58 managers lost their jobs, whether through resignation, redundancy, or the sack. 25 lost their jobs between October 2010 and February 2011, so this Sacking Season has only just begun…

You hate to see it, but fans and owners demand the wins, and demand that their objectives are met. Fans know where their clubs usually end up, and anything above that is a bonus, but the owners are always striving for more, and unfortunately, if you don’t hit that target, you’re shown the door. Sometimes it works out for the better – for example, Liverpool’s turmoil at the start of last season was met with Roy Hodgson being sacked, and Kenny Dalglish returned to the club and saved them from the ultimate embarrassment of a bottom quarter finish.

However, sometimes it gets worse. Blackburn’s new owners Venky’s sacked Sam Allardyce, who had the club at 13th in the table, which shocked fans, players, and football as a whole. The club handled the situation appallingly, and brought in Steve Kean nine days later as an internal appointment. Kean narrowly missed relegation on the last day of the season, and at this point in time during the current season, Blackburn sit a very lowly 19th, with four points from a possible 21. This has led to fan protests for Kean to be sacked, before it is too late.

But is it always the manager that can get it oh so wrong? In Blackburn’s case, the assistant manager, John Jensen, left the club, and it was seen by many as Venky’s showing that they knew what was wrong with the club. Little has changed in the last 10 days since he was relieved of his duties. The backroom staff can sometimes be what is wrong with the club, and what is causing poor results. Usually, however, the manager has to take the ultimate blame, and will leave the club alongside his backroom staff, leaving a completely clean slate for his successor.

The players can also be a factor – Arsenal’ s poor start to the season has been mainly due to the lack of strength in their squad, with the disappearance of Nasri and Fabregas in the summer, and also a string of injuries that has hampered any assault on the top of the table. Wenger has been blamed by many, but the lack of players at his disposal, and the appalling attitude of some, who seem to be playing for themselves rather than the club, can hardly help his cause.

The constant changes in the manager’s office can unsettle a club, and it can turn fans against the owners if the situation is handled in the wrong way. However, 75% of the time, it works out, and fans continue to go to games and enjoy the football offered by their team. It is an inevitable situation for some clubs, and this time of year always brings the sack to certain managers, and it’s just the way English football is now.

Expect to see many more heads roll between now and the January transfer window…

Agree? Disagree?! Contact me on Twitter – I’m @Adam9309, or use the official site account – @bpfootball!


The Eighth Wonder of the World – Titus Bramble

Originally posted on Back Page Football.

On Wednesday lunchtime, I was sat in a bar in town with a friend, catching up over a quick pint. Sky Sports News was on the screen, with a big flashing gold bar across the bottom. ‘Great’, I thought – that feeling every sports fan gets when that bar appears.

‘Titus Bramble arrested on suspicion of possession of Class A drugs and sexual assault’

Well well well, who’d have thought it? Titus Bramble of all people – sexual assault?! No chance. But it did get me thinking about how Titus Bramble – the man who every Premier League fan dreads, but every Premier League manager seems to covet – has made such an illustrious career for himself.

A big-money move from Ipswich to Newcastle in 2002 labelled him a massive flop for the cash. Shipped out to Wigan in 2007, he had a couple of great seasons before moving to Sunderland during the summer of 2010 for another £1m. A few England U-21 caps in there too, and we have the story of Mr Bramble.

His performances are a little eclectic. One moment, you’d think he’s been playing international football for years, and is at the top of his game. At others, well, he leaves a lot to be desired…

It cannot be denied, he puts in a good shift no matter what – he’ll always be willing to run his shirt off to make sure his team try and win. He can also put in a cracking tackle, if a little late on occasions. But his lack of common sense can be the absolute death of him. What has become known as the Titus Bramble Chop, certainly in our football games at home, involves a clip of the heels before stumbling over the other player trampling all over him – which we’ve seen plenty of times.

Bramble comes across as a bit gormless, but in reality, he’s a very clever bloke who knows full well what he’s doing. Which is why I was so surprised about the headline in the week.

Obviously, I have to stress at this point that these are only accusations and he is innocent until proven guilty, but it’s a surprise either way that someone who has come across as a very professional bloke could do something that’s not exactly the actions of a role model.

His experience and his pride of his club is what makes him such a sought after player. His slightly crazy moments at crucial times makes the fans wonder why their club are after him.

Either way, I just hope these accusations against him, and his suspension at Sunderland, are over quickly. Because the Premier League isn’t quite the same without the wonder that is Titus Bramble.

Agree? Disagree?! Contact me on Twitter – I’m @Adam9309, or use the official site account – @bpfootball!


Exciting Times For England’s Youth

Originally posted on Back Page Football.

There was a point last season when I thought that English football just wasn’t what it used to be – a mean feat for an 18 year-old United fan who had grown up with the Golden Generation of 1994. Nothing showed any class, or oozed pure technical wonderment. It all just ended in Route One smash and grab. And it certainly wasn’t pretty.

It says a lot when even Fabio Capello, master of the beautiful game at certain points in his career, has to adapt his tactical mind to play football in this way on an international scale. There was no one-touch passing like Spain, or tricky skills from the likes of Argentina and Holland – just hoof and hope. Leave Peter Crouch up top, drop the best ladders of the ball deep in midfield, play Rooney to run around like a headless chicken, and go mental.

But then we saw a different season – it changed for me after Rooney’s scissored wonder goal in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford. From that point on, everyone tried to better the skills displayed in that manoeuvre. Everything just clicked, and England internationals, and aspiring national team players, were inspired to actually pass and play, rather than lamp the ball up field and chase onto it.

(To be fair, that was probably just me – knowing me and my eyesight, everyone had been playing well all season…)

The likes of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing at Aston Villa showed the raw pace and skill that we’d known to love about them, and began to do it regularly, rather than on rare occurrences. Their seasons became quite so good that they raked in £35m for their club in the summer, joining Manchester United and Liverpool respectively.

We saw Daniel Sturridge keep getting better and better with first-team football at Bolton, scoring eight goals in 12 appearances for the club. Linking up well with his new team-mates, he found himself spearheading Bolton’s attack on the top of the table, before their inevitable crumble toward the end.

Danny Welbeck had a great start to the season, with his form on loan at Sunderland causing many pundits and journalists to call for a main England call-up. Major injuries throughout the season limited his goal-scoring tally, but his 26 appearances did little to keep him under the radar.

The likes of Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones also had massive seasons for their clubs. Henderson, at Sunderland, showed power and awareness, with a killer attacking instinct that led to plenty of goals. His form led to recognition by FIFA, listing him as one of ’13 Young Players To Watch In 2011.’ This form led to his big-money £20m move to Liverpool in the summer.

Jones, on the other hand, had a monster season at the heart of the Blackburn Rovers defence. His partnership with Chris Samba, albeit a little shaky at times, was strong, willing to run with the ball, and also ready to pummel any attacker within a 10-mile radius. He was what one would describe as a nutjob – completely mad, but so driven by football that everything fitted into place. He was also rewarded with an England call-up, and then moved to Manchester United in the summer. Since his move, he’s been a monumental success, and everyone at Old Trafford hopes his momentum keeps on rolling.

So what names have we got to look out for this season? Well, watch Chris Smalling and Marc Albrighton’s careers keep getting better, and better, and better. Both impressed last season, and so far on this season’s form, we can expect more of the same. Tom Cleverley’s loan spell last season at Wigan proved he is already a top-quality player, and almost certainly on a shortlist for Euro 2012 at the end of the season. Henri Lansbury, on loan at West Ham from Arsenal, could be a big name by May, likewise Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has stayed at the Emirates and looks likely to gain plenty of first-team action.

Likewise, the old guard of England’s team will very slowly be phased out. Soon gone will be the defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, the midfield of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, and plenty of others will be joining that list soon too.

The ‘old timers’ of Jack Wilshere, Gary Cahill, Joe Hart, Theo Walcott and Gabriel Agbonlahor will all be seen on the plane next summer. Between the five of them, Cahill is the oldest, at 26 in December. The youthful spirit within the England set-up at this point in time looks to be one that will continue for a while.

The last few years have not been ones to remember for England fans. Well, the last 45 years, if you’re going to be pedantic. But 2012 could certainly be interesting. There’s an excitement around English youth that there hasn’t been for a very long time, and that can only be a good thing.

Capello will be taking a young squad to Poland and Ukraine in the summer, that’s for sure. There’s far too much world-class youth in this country for him not to.

Agree? Disagree?! Contact me on Twitter – I’m @Adam9309, or use the official site account – @bpfootball!