The ‘Ravel’ problem – Were Man utd right to sell?



Another brilliant performance from Ravel Morrison last night for England under 21’s, capped with two goals, was unfortunately marred by a pathetic fight with team-mate Wilfried Zaha.

It is not the first time that Morrison has found himself in a spot of bother. During his time with Manchester United, he was advised to attend domestic violence counselling in the wake of revelations surrounding his discordant home life with his girlfriend. He had also been placed on a 12 month referral due to intimidation charges, including threatening phone calls and throwing a brick through a window!

Enough was enough! Too much shame was brought to Manchester United and Ferguson was forced to sell. I can completely understand his decision, why hold on to a player who just seems to bring you problems?

Last night’s scrap with Zaha (obviously started by Ravel) was part of an archetypal night for Ravel. Two brilliant goals, showing plenty of promise and potential, ending with school boy immaturity. Ravel has been vital to West Ham this season, grabbing two great goals in the Prem and his work rate has been admired for a player of such a young age. He obviously has potential to be an England starter and may find himself on the plane to Brazil if he can curb his adolescent tendencies.

As a Man utd fan, it pains me to see Ravel doing so well at the moment, considering we possess wasteful players in similar positions such as Ashley Young and Nani. I hope we don’t regret selling him and he doesn’t do ‘too well’. However, as an England fan, I believe he can be a fantastic ‘risk’ for Hodgson to take to Brazil and may pay dividends with his huge potential.

On the note of Man utd, it would be a nightmare to think that Ravel could be ‘another Pogba’ and show us up by turning in master class performances week in week out. Although, I don’t have faith in Ravel’s maturity at the moment and cannot see him coming close to the dominant performances of Pogba. Nevertheless, we have been proven wrong before, such as the sale of Diego Forlan to Villarreal in 2004, going on to score 128 goals in 240 La Liga games, for both Villarreal and Atletico Madrid.

Regarding England, Ravel is just one of many England youngsters which Hogsdon has described as “knocking on the door for a starting place”. Ravel Morrison along with Andros Townsend, Ross Barkley and Wilfried Zaha are just a handful from a plethora of promising English talent eager to make their mark. The enthusiasm displayed by Townsend in England’s recent fixtures has been fantastic and if Ravel can replicate similar maturity and determination, he will surely be there in Brazil.


World Cup rat race! – Teams who must win tonight.


The World cup qualifiers are coming to a close today, with tournament favourites such as Germany, Italy, Argentina and dark horses Belgium already qualified, but there are a few teams who carry a weight of expectation behind them in tonight’s crucial matches.

As we all know, England must win tonight’s game against Poland. Ukraine being the only threat to England’s automatic qualifying top spot, face off against European minnows San Marino, with three points virtually ‘in the bag’, England desperately needs the three points. England will not be completely out of the running should they fail, qualifying for the play-offs in 2nd place.

However, a potential face off against unseeded France or Sweden would be a precarious fixture and not one for the fan’s to take lightly. France, a team England have failed to beat for 16 years and Sweden, who comprehensively defeated England 4-2 in their last fixture courtesy of a memorable goal by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, will be a serious threat to England’s chances.

France are not a sure thing for the play offs as they can still qualify automatically should holders Spain lose to Georgia and France win by a sufficient margin against Finland. This looks unlikely however, and France, due to their recently low FIFA world ranking of 25th, will be likely to contest Portugal or England for a place in the World cup.

Portugal are almost guaranteed to feature in the play-offs with Russia being afforded the luxury to even lose their game against minnows Azerbaijan, as their goal difference dwarfs Portugal’s. Ronaldo has even gone as far as saying he “will be those two matches”; in the wake of allegations directed at his ‘deliberate booking’ against last week’s 1-1 draw with Israel.

Greece and Bosnia are both locked in a direct two-horse battle for top spot in Group G. Bosnia, potentially qualifying for their first major international tournament, hold the advantage due to their impressive goal difference, but with a potentially tricky away game against Lithuania, nothing is guaranteed. Greece has an easy match against last placed Lichtenstein at home, meaning one eye will be firmly fixed on Bosnia’s developments.

In North America, Mexico is in serious danger and must win against already qualified Costa Rica and rely upon Jamaica to beat Honduras. Should they fail, Mexico will qualify for the cross continental play-offs. Their neighbours U.S.A, who are usually always a step behind Mexico, have already qualified and will surely have bragging rights over their rivals.

Tournament hosts Brazil are already qualified, meaning the South American qualifying campaign was wide open. Argentina and Colombia will be bringing star strikers Messi and Falcao to Brazil, having already qualified. Ecuador and Chile are both guaranteed qualification provided they play out a draw in tonight’s fixture. Suarez’s Uruguay meanwhile will most likely have to settle for a play-off spot, which is surprising considering the wealth of talent within the team.

In Africa, 2013 African nations cup runners-up Burkina Faso look likely to qualify for their first World cup, after defeating Algeria 3-2 in the first leg of their play-offs. Nigeria will be looking to cap an impressive year after winning the African Nations in January, by holding on to their aggregate lead against Ethiopia next month. Ivory Coast also holds an aggregate lead against Senegal.

New Zealand and Jordan, will be the most likely opponents of Mexico and Uruguay respectively, having squeezed through the Oceania and Asia qualifying groups as cross continental play off participants.  

Summer Bargains – Best players available on a free transfer in 2014


It looks to be a summer free for all in 2014, with players such as Pirlo, Vidic, Lewandowski and Xabi Alonso all available a free agents pending on-going contract negotiations. 

Just looking at those four names is enough for anyone to gasp in shock at how their respective clubs have allowed their contract to wind down to the final year. The list goes on…

Prem stars Sagna, Rosicky and Terry are also available for free due to their lack of influence down the years; however, contract negotiations are apparently pending.

Probably the most publicized possible ‘Bosman’ is the imminent sale of Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes. Valdes seems to have had enough, after 20 years as a Barca stalwart, he fancies a new challenge. Monaco look a likely destination for him and he would have the chance to reunite with his “brother” Eric Abidal. Another European goalkeeping star is up for grabs in Igor Akinfeev, possibly as a replacement for Valdes at Barcelona; he is a reliable keeper with years ahead of him. Valdes’ courage to leave Barca is admirable as I believe no player should remain with one club their whole career and any team would be lucky to have him.

Another hyped up free transfer is the sale of Robert Lewandowski of Borussia Dortmund. No, he is apparently not challenging himself in the well suited Premier League, nor is he moving to Spanish giants Barcelona or Real Madrid. He is moving to … Bayern Munich. In a deal which was described as a ‘done deal’ earlier in the summer, Lewandowski seems set to follow Mario Gotze to strengthen Bayern Munich’s frightening wealth of power. For the sake of competition, I sincerely hope he stays at Borussia and keeps the Bundesliga title challenge alive, otherwise, I sense Bayern will keep a sickening hold on the league, eliminating all competition. Lewandowski is essential to Dortmund’s game play and manager Jurgen Klopp has worked hard in building such a fine squad. It would be very closed minded of Lewandowski to simply transfer to another team with which he has already won the country’s title and not challenge himself abroad. Bayern questionably let go of Mario Gomez in the summer and failed to replace him, citing Mandzukic’s fine form as strong enough to hold the forward line alone. Knowing Bayern, they most likely had their eyes on Lewandowski’s contract and will look to pounce in 2014.

However, Lewandowski has recently stated “One day I would like to play in Premier League. It would be a great experience.” So no deal is set in stone… Man utd maybe?

And finally…Andrea Pirlo. As a Juventus Fan, I cannot fathom how his contract has been allowed to run down this long and I seriously hope we don’t lose him. My favourite player of all time is certainly not dispensable, just look at his goal against AC Milan, a trademark splendid free kick in an important title decider. Even at his age, he is still an integral part of our game play and despite Pogba being amazingly composed for his age, he is not yet a Pirlo. In fact, the longer Pogba is playing with Pirlo, the better he will become, learning from the best midfielder of his generation. Pirlo is simply magical. There is no Juventus without him, don’t believe me? Just ask Buffon, when questioned about Pirlo’s contract situation, Buffon said “If Pirlo were to leave, we might as well dismantle the stadium bit by bit and stop playing football altogether”. Certain critics have suggested that Juventus are currently ‘too reliant’ on Tevez, but if we were ever ‘too reliant’ on anybody, it would be Pirlo.

So there you have it, just some of the fantastically talented players available for FREE this summer, grab yourself a bargain… JUST STAY AWAY FROM PIRLO!

The Art of deliberate booking


So Ronaldo had apparently got himself deliberately booked in the Group F World cup qualifier against Israel, daring to alter the ‘natural order of things’. With one eye on the crucial play-offs, can we really blame him?

I certainly don’t. Yes, it may be slightly devious in that it’s a form of simulation and deliberately manipulates the outcome of a match. However, it’s the Portugal manager Paulo Bento’s best interest to ensure that they qualify, by any means necessary. A Portugal side with Ronaldo in it will always have high expectations and I’m sure you will not find a Portugal fan eager to express his fury at Ronaldo’s actions,.

Portugal are almost certain to finish second following their disappointing  1-1 draw with Israel and are virtually booked into the second place play-offs. Last placed Luxembourg follow on Tuesday and Portugal look certain to win, no matter what team they put on. It is essentially a dead-rubber and Ronaldo is not worth the risk and Portugal can rejoice in the fact that he will be banned, and will be ‘clean’ for the crucial play-offs. A potential match up with teams such as France and England (hopefully not) awaits them in the play-offs meaning Ronaldo is needed more than ever.

So what’s the problem?

I couldn’t care less if a player deliberately gets themselves booked in order to be available for a crucial game. In fact, I would be surprised if they didn’t and I fully endorse it. The referees don’t have to book them and whatever the intentions are for the action which got the player the ‘deliberate’ yellow card is, it was still deemed worthy of punishment and therefore an honest booking. So what? If a referee suspects a player may deliberately get themselves sent off or a yellow card and the player in question slaps someone in the face, is the ref supposed to ignore it?  Of course not. It’s simple, a booking is a booking.

In fact, my only concern with this ‘tactic’ is the obviousness of it. In Ronaldo’s case, he got himself booked in the 90th minute after arguing with the ref needlessly. Had he done this in the 55th minute let’s say, nobody would have earmarked it for simulation. Tottenham manager Andre Vilas Boas was slated for his public endorsement of Gareth Bale’s deliberate booking against Inter Milan during last season’s Europa league saying “We now have him clean of problems for the last eight if we go through. To be fair, probably with this result, we would have asked for him to get a yellow card to clean and be ready for the last eight.”

Surely a more discrete endorsement would have been clever and you are only asking for trouble with statements like that, no matter how correct and admiringly honest Andre is.

Ronaldo himself, refused to dodge claims of simulation saying “Fifa is always very attentive to those situations,”, however, his intentions were clear later on saying “The playoff is the most important and I don’t want to be out. I will be at those two matches.”. Had he not got booked and still be at risk of missing a game, would he have had the confidence to say that? Ronaldo is basically saying ‘I don’t care about that Luxembourg game and don’t worry, Portugal’s ONLY world class player will be available for the play offs’, and rightly so.

We saw Real Madrid fined £100,000 in 2010 for premeditated bookings, and Mourinho was handed a touchline ban for his apparently ‘obvious’ ordering of the bookings. As a manager, I would certainly be doing the same, knowing that the next tie would be a dead-rubber, what business do my best players have in being available for that?

It’s ridiculous of UEFA and FIFA to investigate too much into incidents such as these, with the unpredictable nature of ref’s these days causing far more of a concern in the outcome of a match.

If we all want a World cup to remember next year, surely we want all of the best players there as well. If Portugal are drawn against France and are without Ronaldo, they’ll certainly lose and the World cup will lose arguably the greatest player ever. The booking was not just for Portugal, it was for the all around spectacle of the World cup.

If England draws Portugal in the knock-out stages of the World cup, maybe I won’t be so endorsing of his actions. Hopefully not.

Anyone remember 4-4-2?


So Rooney has revealed his discontent at being played out of position last season, often being deployed through the middle just behind the outstanding Robin Van Persie. No longer the attacking talisman of the team, United found themselves relying upon the goal scoring presence of RVP, shifting Rooney into a supporting role.

“Everyone at the club knew where I wanted to play and I think that’s why I was disappointed,” he told reporters. “I got told to play in midfield and I didn’t want to”.

Clearly demonstrating his belief that he is best suited playing alongside Van Persie, possibly bringing back the good old 4-4-2 formation to accommodate him.

Sounds retro doesn’t it?

The traditional 4-4-2 has served football well over the years, providing a sharp balance between attack and defence whilst relying on tireless wingers to provide integral support and playing between the lines.  It is possibly the first formation we became familiar with as kids, well my generation anyway.

Nowadays, kids will be more familiar with the deployment of a single striker, supported heavily by a trio of  pacey attacking mids, one as a traditional ‘number 10’ playmaker and the other two providing dynamic support on the flanks and often acting as strikers themselves eg: Barcelona’s Messi and Pedro.

In England, the 4-4-2 formation has certainly proved its worth.  Just look at Manchester United’s treble winning season (Yes, I found a way to bring that up), possibly the greatest United side ever containing the likes of Scholes and Keane, forming the greatest midfield partnership of the Premiership era, the perfect blend of grit and sublime. In attack you have the memorable Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, who on their own would be average, but together were a deadly duo. Supported by Giggs and Beckham out wide, and you have a recipe for success. The formation brought the best out of every one of them.

Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ also used the 4-4-2 system to its ferocious potential, literally becoming unbeatable.  Henry being the obvious focal point of attack who didn’t necessarily require a strike partner due to his world class individual ability but found one in Dennis Bergkamp, sitting slightly behind him and providing countless assists. Pires and Ljungberg were instrumental in their success as well, chipping in with goals and often cutting inside and finding themselves at home in the penalty area. Vieira and Gilberto, a close second best central midfield partnership of the Premier League era, were highly influential and seemed to shame their midfield counterparts both physically and technically.

So why has it been phased out?

The 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formation have often outnumbered the fragile two man midfield of the 4-4-2, leaving the wingers redundant. In actual fact, the 4-2-3-1 formation is a clear derivation of the 4-4-2. In order to compensate for the ‘no man’s land’ space between the attack and midfield, teams began to deploy a deep second striker/attacking midfielder. This eventually transformed the whole shape of the system and has been responsible for numerous successes across the years and even reshaped Cristiano Ronaldo’s game-play by becoming more adept at cutting into the penalty area as an inside forward.

However, it is in Spain and Germany where the 4-4-2 formation is closest to a revival.

Atletico Madrid have been using a counter attacking 4-4-2 formation with great results this season, 24 points out of 24 in eight games is remarkable. Atletico also beat city rivals Real Madrid 1-0 using the same system, forcing Real to revert to a 4-4-2 themselves in order to counter their threat. The formation definitely gets the best out of Diego Costa (Current Top scorer in La Liga) and the reliable David Villa.

Borussia Monchengladbach, an advocate of the 4-4-2 system in the Bundesliga has started impressively this season as well. Like Atletico, they have also defeated a league heavyweight in Borussia Dortmund. Klopp’s men battled relentlessly but were ultimately defeated and the formation has certainly played a part in this and other recent successful results. Gladbach started the season poorly with a 3-1 defeat to Bayern Munich and a 4-2 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen, very strong teams but in these two games Gladbach adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation. In every other game Gladbach relied upon the 4-4-2 and flourished, losing only one out of their remaining six.

These are telling signs that the formation is not ready to hang up its boots just yet. The 4-4-2 is still a favourite of mine when it comes to Football Manager and I’ve managed to turn Millwall F.C into 9 time Champions League winners. English F.A, I await your call.

Position Transition gains Xavi approval


There’s no better person to compliment your desired success in central midfield than the current master himself, Barcelona’s Xavi. Xavi has approved of Guardiola‘s decision to recently play Lahm in central midfield, stating that he firmly believes that Lahm “has what it takes to be a top midfield player”.

Primarily used to deputise for Javi Martinez in the wake of his month long injury, Lahm has acclimatised to Bayern‘s midfield with ease, bringing his defensive reliability to solidify a soon to be very attacking minded ‘Tiki-Taka‘ game play.

During the 1-1 away draw with Bayer Leverkusen last weekend, Lahm was a barrel of energy and always found himself involved in their play. Martinez has recently started training again and Xavi doesn’t seem to be in the mood for helping his compatriot out by emphatically saying “it is impossible that anybody could have played any better there”.

Lahm has taken to his new position like a duck to water, and this provides Pep with a difficult decision to make once Javi Martinez returns. Judging by recent performances, Lahm is far too important to leave on the right flank and has opened up a whole new gameplay with him in the side. However, Javi Martinez is equally reliable in midfield and has far more potential for growth in that position than Lahm. Add the fact that Lahm has been virtually the most consistent Right Back in the world and the problems start to pile up. If Guardiola does decide to freeze Martinez out of the side than he can soon go the way of Luiz Gustavo, an equally adept Defensive midfielder pushed out by the sheer excellence of the squad.

It is hardly a decision which will gain much sympathy from other managers considering the quality of the players involved, but a decision (or risk) has to be made.

School of Excellence – Countries who didn’t need a Adnan Januzaj


So England are desperately clutching at straws in their attempts to ‘nationalise’ Belgian, Turkish, Serbian, Albanian, Kosovan … any more?  Adnan Januzaj. Is English talent really that poor that we are now resorting to a player who wouldn’t theoretically be available until 2018? Not to mention he has only started one game in the Premier League. As talented as he is, Surely the German, Spanish or Dutch FA wouldn’t resort to such desperate measures. In light of this, I wish to take a brief look at certain youth academies that produced players of excellent standard for their country without the need for a Adnan Januzaj.



Probably the first team that comes to any football fan’s mind when discussing the produce of technically gifted youth players. The inaugural ‘breeding ground’ for the ‘Total football’ fostered by FIFA’s coach of the century Rinus Michels in the 1970’s which has strongly influenced so many possession based tactics and the abrasive pressing style of Barcelona and Spain. A style of football which shocked the world by it’s beauty and efficiency and possibly the greatest team to never win a World Cup. However, Winning three consecutive Champions Leagues, 1988 European Championship and numerous league titles, none of this would be possible without the technically emphasised youth coaching of Ajax. Also the phenomenal success of Barcelona and AC Milan in the 80’s and 90’s would never be possible without marquee signings such as Van Basten and Rijkaard.

Notable players: Cruyff (My favourite 20th century player along with Baresi), Bergkamp, Sneijder, Rijkaard, Davids, Neeskens too many others to name here.



If Ajax are the undisputed ‘King of Youth’ then Barca take the Prince’s crown and will surely usurp them in coming years. Just looking at the wealth of young talent amongst Barca’s famous La Masia youth academy is frightening and quite frankly embarrassing that England have not adopted something similar. Based on the successful model of Ajax’s youth set up, La Masia dedicate rigorous hours of intense technique based training and boasting a huge training complex along with an on site dormitory which the promising youth players stay in. Guardiola, one of the first graduates, is seen as the most complete example of the standards set out by La Masia and was influential in the progression of Xavi and Iniesta’s career. So confident in their standards, they have even resigned former graduates Pique, Fabregas and Jordi Alba in recent years and each of them have adapted amazingly. They instil a much lauded ‘Tiki-Taka’ philosophy which has become emblematic with the success of Spain in recent years. It’s simple, No La Masia = No World cup.

Notable players: Guardiola, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Messi,


The team which made the game beautiful, an innate love for the game has surrounded Brazil throughout the years, leaving fans with a mutual love for their footballing philosophy regardless of whether they’re Brazilian or not. No other club in Brazil has been so closely linked with the magic of Brazil than Santos. Probably best known nowadays as the supplier of Neymar, Santos also produced world class players such as Coutinho, Robinho, Elano and a certain player called Pele. Since Pele’s retirement Brazil have always heaped pressure onto promising young attackers and constantly dubbing them the ‘new Pele’ in a very similar way to how Argentina does with Diego Maradona. Neymar and Robinho, both Santos graduates, have been compared ferociously with the success of Pele and despite Robinho slightly waning over the years; Neymar’s legacy has just begun and promises a lot.

Notable players: Pele (you might have heard of him), Robinho, Coutinho, Neymar

In order to replicate the success of these great teams, England needs to have a hard look at their youth set up standards and the St Georges Park Centre of Excellence is the right way forward, but this just scratches the surface. We need to encourage promising academies such as Southampton to produce more Walcotts and Chamberlains, Manchester United to produce more Scholes and Beckhams and West Ham to produce more Lampards and Ferdinands. At the moment it looks bleak, and I can certainly see why we would want someone of Januzaj’s technical quality, but England’s players are soon moving into that direction of training and Jack Wilshere can be our very own Guardiola and serve as a standard prototype of the quality of player we should be aiming for.

Belgium have certainly managed to do it lately and we should follow suit.

The ‘Overrated’ One

So Mourinho believes he is the ‘manager of the best Real Madrid team in history’, a bold view considering the acrimonious circumstances which surrounded his exit.

However, Statistics do back him up. He of course mentions the record breaking 100 point La Liga season of 2011-2012 in which they also scored a remarkable 121 goals. A 96723776-52512762355ad0

fantastic achievement considering it contained one of the greatest sides in history as their direct competitors in Barcelona. But who else was there? … Exactly.

Valencia (3rd in 2011-2012) were a hefty thirty points behind 2nd place Barcelona and thirty nine points behind Mourinho’s men. These sort of statistics show no evidence of a fiercely competitive league. It is also far from a coincidence that the most wins in a La Liga season have been acheived consecutively in the last two years, both by Real Madrid and Barcelona. This problem is growing every year in Spain and shows no sign of abating, evidenced by the massive exodus of top talent from La Liga during this summer’s transfer window. Lack of competition and add arguably the best player in the world to your team and it’s no wonder that Real Madrid achieved the dizzying heights of 2011- 2012.

The ‘lack of competition’ problem has followed him elsewhere. In Italy, we found him taking the reins of an Inter Milan squad boosted considerably by the Calciopoli scandal of 2006. Juventus were just finding their feet in the Serie A following their demotion to Serie B and were far from the dominant force they are today. AC Milan were also feeling the pinch leaving Inter with a plethora of talent and the only ‘attractive’ option for players coming to the Serie A.

… And now we come to the final and possibly most important factor in Mourinho’s success. Money. Essentially ‘buying’ the title Abramovich so often craved in 2005, he could of put almost anyone in charge and they would of won it. Chelsea had spent a huge £121 million upon Abramovich’s arrival and once Mourinho joined he spent a further £92 million. A dream transfer kitty gave his competitors no chance. Despite all this, he never cracked Europe and this has always been a blemish on Mourinho’s CV. The highly expensive Galacticos signings continued with Madrid chairman Florentino Perez’s second reign which comfortably coincided with Mourinho’s appointment.

Mourinho does dererve some credit for his work and I definitely do not consider him a poor manager at all. I just feel that his career has been somewhat fortunate to land in certain places at certain times backed by certain owners. He has built fantastic and memorable squads over the years and has been known to only tolerate signing players of his own personal choice, evidenced by his discontent surrounding Andriy Shevchenko’s arrival in 2006 and his acquisitions of compatriots Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho. A two time Champions league winner should never go unnoticed and his treble winning season with Inter was phenomenal. The style of play he instils in his players is far from beautiful but why should that matter at all as long as it works? and it certainly has for him. It’s also rather ironic that the two teams which Mourinho managed with the most most money available for him (Chelsea & Real Madrid) weren’t able to win the Champion league, proving that his teams are more mettle than money.

Mourinho’s charisma has gained him many friends and many enemies during his career and this latest remark is fairly typical of him, worthy of the assertion yet inconsiderate. By asserting that he had the ‘greatest Madrid side’ he is ignoring the fantastic work of Vicente Del Bosque who in just four seasons in charge won the Champions league twice and the La Liga twice. Mourinho mustered only one La Liga title in three seasons. Del Bosque also had the agony of a resurgent Deportivo La Coruna side and a solid Valencia side, as well as Barcelona of course as their direct competitors. He also doesn’t seem to remember the Real Madrid of the 1980’s which won five consecutive La Liga titles and completely revolutionised the ambitions of Los Blancos in a time of previous austerity.

Had Mourinho been able to achieve success in Europe with Madrid than this rambling article would probably not have been written but despite domestic success being important, its only the Champions League which really makes Madrid fans take notice. Win that and you’ll be remembered forever. Mr Mourinho, I’m afraid you will not.