How bright is the future of the England football team?

Big Sam Allardyce to become the next England ManagerSo, as the FA look forward to the start of another record-breaking, money-swamping, ego-bloated Premier League season, following the abysmal performances and eventual collapse of the England national team in Euro 2016 against Iceland – a country with the population of Croydon and more volcanoes than professional footballers – the English Football Association have yet another chance following a tournament failure, to ‘get it right next time’.

With that in mind, who wouldn’t be excited to know they are in talks with Big Sam Allardyce to become the next England Manager.

It’s funny how all the football pundits, journalists and so-called football ‘experts’ (especially ex-professionals who apparently have an insider’s understanding of how to play football because once upon a time, they under-performed and failed miserably in an England shirt too) were all singing England’s praises before the start of the Euro 2016 finals in France. Roy Hodgson was being talked up for selecting a young, exciting squad and England was being tipped to make the quarter-finals, semis and by some, even win the tournament. This euphoria followed an unbeaten qualifying campaign. Neither of which is something new. Nor were the poor performances, no plan b or lack of quality when faced with an opposition who played as a team, were not afraid to receive the ball, and above all, didn’t resort to kicking the ball around as fast as possible in headless chicken fancy dress costumes when they went behind.

For decades now England has underperformed on the big stage. This isn’t new, but deep-rooted. It started in the 1970s when England failed to even make the World Cup finals for over a decade At the same time, there was an emergence of a new style of European football. While West Germany (as it was known then) continued to play solid, cautious football with a strong team ethic, Holland (also known as Netherlands) began playing a slower, more skillful game that promoted individual flair and ability but still with a strong team spirit. This evolved from the exciting flair of the Brazil 1970 team – possibly the best football team of all time – and infiltrated Spanish football in the 1980s when Dutch legend Johan Cruyff became manager of Barcelona. England’s style of fast, furious, aggressive football was no longer good enough to compete at the highest level. While I can understand the achievements of 1966 and 1970 were still fresh in the memory when England failed to qualify for the 1974 and 1978 World Cup Finals, by the 1980s the English FA had the chance to address the endemic problems in English football coaching that start with young kids and proliferates through grassroots and professional levels.

Apart from a brave attempt in World Cup 1990 and again helped by home advantage in Euro 96, England’s place in the hierarchy of national football is no longer at the

top table. The only difference with the over-enthusiastic and under-performing Euro 16 debacle was this time the capitulation was against a debutant country the size of Iceland. England achieved a new rock bottom in embarrassment and under-performance. But however frustrating it is to see overpaid primadonas fail miserably once again to play for their country at the level they play for their clubs, be careful not to agree with the wrong excuses. Forget ‘tiredness from a physically draining season’, too many foreign players, money or lack of commitment. England’s failure at every World Cup and European Championship finals comes down to one thing – the English way of playing football. Until that changes at schoolboy and grass roots level and permeates to the top level of English football, England will continue to fail at every major tournament.

Jurgen Klinsmann was at the heart of rebuilding Germany when they hit a low 10 years ago. They looked not just at the national team’s performances but at the whole structure of German football. Look where they are now.

The future of England isn’t bright. According to the English FA, the future is… Big Sam Allardyce!

Wembley Arch displays Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ahead of England v France

Wembley Arch displays Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ahead of England v France
Wembley Arch displays Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ahead of England v France

Wembley Arch will display the national motto of France, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (liberty, equality and fraternity) for the England v France friendly.

Supporters going to the England v France frindly tonight are advised to get to Wembley Stadium as early as possible to avoid queues and to support commemorations of the tragic events in France.

The FA plans to appropriately remember Friday’s Paris incidents and encourages England fans to support the following initiatives:

  • England fans are asked to respect the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, the words of which will be displayed on screens inside the arena
  • La Marseillaise will be sung after God Save the Queen, in a change of protocols
  • Materials will be on seats in the east side (England Home End) of the stadium, which will form the French Tricolore when fans hold them aloft during the anthem
  • A minute’s silence will be observed prior to kick-off
  • Please ensure that you take your seats no later than 19.55 to observe the minute’s silence and national anthems
  • Both teams will wear black armbands during the game
  • The England team will make a gesture of solidarity to the French team prior to kick-off

Will Jose Mourinho be sacked this week & replaced by Diego Simeone?

Chelsea suffered a third straight defeat in the Premier League away to Mark HughesStoke City yesterday, leaving them in 16th position, just three points off the relegation places. It’s the first time they have lost three consecutive Premier League matches since 1999, when Mark Hughes was leading the line for Chelsea.  How they could have done with a little ‘Sparky’ magic yesterday, as by all accounts they played well but failed to convert several chances.

Each week someone says the situation at Chelsea is shocking, believing Jose Mourinho and Chelsea will turn it around and start an ascent up the table and finish in the top four. But with each week and each defeat the pressure grows and the questions mount.  Chelsea have now lost more games in the Premier League than Manchester City, Arsenal and Man Utd combined.

The no-nonsense hiring and firing brand of leadership shown by Roman Abramovich in the past has been put on hold to give Mourinho more time than any other Chelsea manager has endured since his reign.  Carlo Ancelotti was sacked months after winning the Premier League Title & FA Cup double, and Roberto Di Matteo suffered a similar fate after guiding the club to its only ever Champions League victory.  But Mourinho’s return, a ‘second coming’ for many Blues fans, appeared to be somewhat of a longer term commitment by both club and manager when Chelsea offered a four-year contract to lure Jose Mourinho back, for what was deemed ‘unfinished business’; and his return to English football was greeted with open arms by the media and football fans alike; and with Sir Alex Ferguson retiring, the Premier League needed more characters.

Last season Chelsea romped home to win the Premier League, while bagging the Carling (League) Cup along the way.  With a new spine to the team consisting of Thibaut Courtois, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, added to a new lease of life from an ageing John Terry, Jose Mourinho‘s Chelsea were head and shoulders above an average list of under performing teams; and that for me, is where the problem started. They were crowned Premier League Champions and unlike previous summers, appeared to rest on their laurels somewhat by not strengthening the first team.  A summer long tussle with Everton to sign the young, promising John Stones at least highlighted where Mourinho saw a weakness.  But a last minute scramble to sign Pedro ahead of Liverpool appeared somewhat more in desperation than commitment.  Poor results in pre-season, an extra week off and then being beaten by Arsenal in the Charity Shield was surely enough to shake the champions from their slumber.  I wasn’t the only one who thought Swansea City were going to feel the brunt of Jose Mourinho and Chelsea’s thunder on the opening day of the new season. The game ended 1-1 though Swansea were very unlucky not to take all three points at Stamford Bridge.

Now, 12 games into the 2015/16 Premier League season and Chelsea have lost no less than seven matches; and where over the past two seasons they have averaged over two points a game, this season it is less than one.  Though it sounds ridiculous, the fact is Chelsea are currently showing relegation form. So is Jose Mourinho going to be given a further stay of execution as we head into the international break? At least until the end of the season. Or is this the right time

to consider all the issues and baggage that Mourinho is now carrying and once again sack the two faces of Mourinho – happy and special when he’s winning and an indignant, immature and bad tempered sulky pants,  when he loses.

Roman Abramovich said, of all the managers he has sacked, he only regrets Carlo Ancelotti.  Ancelotti is currently available. But believing he was ‘disappointed’ by the sacking, I feel it will take more than an excessive amount of money to bring Ancelotti back to Stamford Bridge. There’s the possibility of a caretaker manager until the end of the season when it may be easier to prize a top manager away from their current position.  This worked out well previously for Chelsea when they appointed Rafa Benitez, who not only steadied the ship but also had Chelsea playing exciting, expansive football with Oscar, Eden Hazard & Juan Mata offering Abramovich a taste of the Barcelona style he so adores; and it’s no secret that he has previously attempted to woo Pep Guardiola, whose contract with Bayern Munich ends this summer.

So is there any other big names that would be able to turn Chelsea’s fortunes around?  One comes to mind.  A manager who has had success both in Europe and La Liga over the past few seasons, who already knows Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa & Radamel Falcao. Diego Simeonethe Argentina player known to England fans for getting a young David Beckham sent off for ‘that’ flailing leg in the World Cup.

What Diego Simeone has acheived with Atletico Madrid has been nothing less than amazing.  His teams play an exciting, attack-minded style of football that would please both Chelsea fans and Roman Abramovich; and though there are many factors to Chelsea not performing on the pitch, it is clear they are distinctly missing the goals of Diego Costa.

So, the question I believe will answer the dilemma Chelsea face right now is, can Jose Mourinho deliver a top four finish this season, and if not, do they write the season off and start afresh with a new manager, one that could steer Chelsea back to winning ways and be a major force in Europe.  For what it’s worth, my money is on Jose Mourinho being sacked this week and replaced by Diego Simeone.

Aston Villa are 3/1 to Finish Bottom of the Premier League

Aston Villa are 3/1 to Finish Bottom of the Premier League

In February 2015 Tim Sherwood was appointed manager of Aston Villa, his second managerial position after a short but not unsuccessful spell at Tottenham Hotspur from December 2013 to his dismissal in May 2014. As a player Sherwood was feisty, hard but honest.  But more than anything, he was a winner. Most notably he was Kenny Dalglish‘s captain when Blackburn Rovers won the Premier League in 1995.

Last season, Aston Villa was for the sixth season on the trot, embroiled in a relegation battle. Randy Learner had previously proclaimed he was looking to sell the midlands club for the right price.  It was therefore a surprise to some critics that Tim Sherwood, a relatively inexperienced manager, was given the job.  Crudely speaking, Aston Villa are worth a lot more on the open market as a member of the Premier League – the richest league in the world.

In the next three months Tim Sherwood not only kept Aston Villa in the Premier League, due in part to his man-management skills and a return to form of striker Christian Benteke, he steered them to an FA Cup final. Unfortunately for Sherwood he was completely outclassed on the day by the master tactician, Arsene Wenger, who’s Arsenal team ripped Villa apart in one of the most one-sided FA Cup finals for many years.

In the summer Aston Villa lost their  two best players in Benteke (Liverpool) and club captain & England international Fabian Delph (Manchester City).  The latter for a surprisingly low transfer fee of £6 million, one year before his contract expired. Other experienced players also left the club, making it clear Villa needed to rebuild.  So the arrival of 13 new players in the summer transfer window was inevitable.  But without any star signings, and only three of the 13 speaking English, it was clear before a ball was kicked, that this season was going to be a tough one for Villa and Tim Sherwood.

Tim Sherwood

In an interview for BBC Radio 5 Live this week, Tim Sherwood attempted to brush aside the question asking how he felt about Villa appointing a Director of Football after his own appointment and whether he had much control on the buying and selling of players by diplomatically stating that the club needs to bring in more experienced players in the January Transfer Window to continue playing in the Premier League next season. Betway currently have Aston Villa 3/1 to finish bottom of the Premier League, and unless Aston Villa go on a winning run, starting today with a home match against Swansea City, it’s odds on that Tim Sherwood won’t be the manager of Aston Villa come January.

There are two major issues here. Since Martin O’Neill walked out in 2010 after achieving three consecutive Top 6 finishes, allegedly over, among other things, the clubs’ transfer policy, Aston Villa have continually found themselves at the other end of the table fighting relegation, unable to attract an experienced top drawer manager.  The second is, like the criticism that is given to Premier League teams wanting instant success, Tim Sherwood is a case in point proving that young English managers need to learn their trade out and make their mistakes away from the 24/7 glare of the Premier League. I have no doubt that Tim Sherwood is a motivational manager, good at man management, but appears to fall short as a tactician, especially in games where a Plan B is necessary.

In the short term, it looks like Tim Sherwood will lose his job sooner rather than later.  Hopefully he will swallow his pride and his next managerial position will be for a lower league club where he will be given more time and less expectations.  As for Aston Villa, I see them attempting to carry on ignoring the real problems at the club, which appear to be more with its hierarchy and how the club is run, rather than individual managers and under-performing players.

Who’s the best England striker of all-time Lofthouse, Greaves, Charlton, Lineker … or Wayne Rooney?

Wayne Rooney has become the all-time leading goalscorer for England
Wayne Rooney scores 50th goal for England

So Wayne Rooney has become the all-time leading goalscorer for England.

In the process, he has overtaken Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker who for different reasons, fell just short of reaching 50 international goals when they decided to hang up their England boots. Bobby Charlton was never played as an orthodox striker. Instead, he built a reputation as an attacking midfielder and hitting 30 yard net-ripping screamers (though I’m not actually sure how many of these he actually scored!).

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=er_rTB4Q3ys

In the case of Gary Lineker, one can only assume his announcement to retire from international football was not taken lightly by then England manager, Graeme ‘Swede Head’ ‘Turnip’ Taylor who decided to substitute him on his final appearance in a crucial European Championship qualifier, where England needed to score… , for Alan Smith!

I remember watching the match. Lineker couldn’t believe it. The look on his face and the slow walk, head bowed, said it all. Lineker needed just one more goal to set a new record; and as penalty-taker would have had the chance to break the England goalscoring record, had still been on the pitch. That said, it must have been a very difficult decision for Graeme ‘Swede Head’ ‘Turnip’ Taylor to make as the England team of 1992 were awash with World Class talent. What with the likes of Tony Daley, Andy Sinton, David Batty and Carlton Palmer.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAPtAsbEmII

Unlike Charlton, Lineker was a striker, ‘a poacher’, ‘a goal hanger’. Whatever he was, his record for England is an impressive one. But comparing goals to games ratio, no one comes close to goal scoring legends Jimmy Greaves and Nat Lofthouse. Lofthouse played for England 33 times between 1950 and 1958 and scored 30 goals. A remarkable feat, even if goalkeepers were crap in those days!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTZaYf-Kics

Jimmy Greaves, often cited as ‘the greatest England striker‘ scored 37 in 41 games for England, including no less than six hat-tricks – back of the net! Greaves was the First Division’s top scorer in six seasons and if it weren’t for an injury would have been first choice striker for England in the 1966 World Cup. Instead, when Jimmy Greaves returned from injury in time for the later stages of the tournament, Alf Ramsey decided to stick with the young debutant Geoff Hurst. The rest is history, though Greaves probably didn’t do his England career any favours after the World Cup by allegedly telling Ramsey to piss off!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=docY5CRWqGc

When Wayne Rooney burst into the England team as a very exciting and naturally talented 17 year old (becoming the youngest England player of all-time) in 2003 he was surrounded by other great goalscoring players. Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Michael Owen and David Beckham scored their fair share of England goals, too. But Rooney’s outstanding natural talent and ability to read the game led me to believe that as he matured he would take on a deeper role so as to control the game, rather than waiting for the ball to be played to him. In this, I saw him carving out a midfield general role and become the new Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne. The fiery character was there, as was his ability. But for both club and country, he has been pushed further forward, and often played as a lone striker; a role that I still believe is not his best. Furthermore, in the past few seasons England and Manchester United have relied on Rooney to perform in less than convincing teams.

With all the aforementioned taken into consideration, it is an amazing feat for Wayne Rooney to have scored 50 goals in 107 games for England, aged just 29; and while there is a dearth in World Class England players, he looks likely to play many more games and probably become the most capped for England player, too. All of this, and still too many critics and fans alike are ready to argue against Rooney’s achievements. Whether you like it or not, Nat Lofthouse, Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker … and Wayne Rooney is pretty much how you get from the 1950s to 2015, if you want to discuss England’s top goal scorers of all-time.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRjdWmP7yOg