Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Two years later and not much has changed

Time away is not time wasted.
By Abigail Richards

It's been two years and some change since I posted to this blog. it's not that I necessarily wanted to stop. A change in circumstances means a change in the person and I haven't had anywhere near the time to post. Plus I didn't think anyone was reading it, but some of the comments I've gotten that I didn't see before I stopped writing have changed my mind somewhat! Thank you to everyone who left a comment. So the question now is, do I keep writing?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Quest for World Domination

Premier League Matches Abroad? No, Thanks.
By Abigail Richards

The English Premier League continued its quest for world domination lately with the announcement of plans to play a 39th round of matches away from home, with the US, Asia and Australia being mooted as possible locations for games to be played as the richest league in the world looks to fatten its bank account.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of fans don't seem to approve. And who can blame them? The league clearly aren't thinking of the fans at home in these proposals. Instead they want to cash in on the Americans, Chinese and Japanese fans, most of whom have never been to a Premier League match and certainly haven't been following the game and the teams as long as their British counterparts.

Just whose interests does this idea best serve? Certainly not the countries mooted. Thus far both the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and the USSF (United States Soccer Federation) have appeared nonchalant over the proposals, with the AFC making the very good point that these proposals would have a damaging effect on their own countries' leagues and clubs. Which match would you rather attend? Xiamen Lanshi vs. Qingdao Zhongneng or Manchester United vs. Chelsea? It's a no-brainer really.

The USSF have gone on record as saying that they will be guided by FIFA on this matter, and with UEFA president Michel Platini already describing the proposals as 'comical', it doesn't bode well for the Premier League. The MLS has been criticised both in the US and Europe as being of a very low standard. Despite the arrivals of Claudio Reyna, Denilson, Juan Pablo Angel and, of course, David Beckham the standard of the teams and players is still low. This is highlighted by the fact that the MLS Cup champions Houston Dynamo recently 'strengthened' their side by the signing of Gretna's 33 year old 'keeper Tony Caig, a player with a football CV including the Vancouver Whitecaps and Carlisle United. Hardly a worldbeater. No offence to Tony intended.

Are we really supposed to believe that it would be good for the MLS should the Premier League be playing matches in the soccer cities of Chicago, Los Angeles and New York? Indeed many were sceptical when it was claimed that David Beckham's arrival at the Los Angeles Galaxy would be good for the American game. But certainly his playing in the MLS is of a far greater benefit than rival matches being staged if as planned, at the end of the English season (i.e. June), right around when the MLS will be in full swing, that is, midseason.

As a plan, it clearly has its flaws. The simple fact of the matter is that this plan would only serve to fill clubs' coffers with millions of Dollars, Yen and Yuan. To steal thousands upon thousands of spectators desperate for the world-class players that the Premier League can provide.

Quite clearly the Premier League has lost its way. It is forgetting its most valuable commodity, its English fans. Those who have followed their team for 50 years, come rain or shine, and passed the love of the game down to their children and their childrens' children. If the Premier League loses these people, they lose everything. And that's what they should be bearing in mind with these proposals.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Search Begins

Who'd Be An England Manager?
By Abigail Richards

They're a fickle sort, the Football Association. 18 games into a four-year contract, Steve McLaren was dismissed following his failure to qualify for Euro 2008.

While fickle, I have to say I totally agree with the FA's decision. This time. The fact is that McLaren never should have been appointed in the first place. A fine number two he may be, but the amount of times he looked entirely out of his depth tactically and his total failure to control the immense egos of some of the side's supposed superstars made England rather hilarious to watch at times.

Unless of course, you're an England fan. As a Scot, I have to say I feel sorry for the Auld Enemy. Scotland's last two managers have done such a good job that big club sides have came knocking and stolen them away. England's last two managers have been terminated after a series of failures, or in Sven Goran Eriksson's case, apparent failures. Personally I think three consecutive quarter-finals appearances is not a bad record - especially compared to McLaren's.

But who knows, perhaps McLaren will now go on to emulate Eriksson's post-England success and a year from now the fans and press will be calling for him to be reinstated. That both sections, albeit in their minority, have called for Eriksson to be offered the job again is laughable. This would be comparable to the Scottish press starting a campaign to have Berti Vogts installed as Alex McLeish's successor.

Scotland, however, have a number of native managers perfectly capable of taking the job. Billy Davies anyone? Recently sacked from Derby County, he's a free agent. I for one wouldn't mind to see him take the job.

But seriously, who in their right mind would take the England job these days? That the only serious contenders at the moment seem to be Fabio Capello, a man who doesn't speak English, and Harry Redknapp, one of the most famous 'wheeler-dealer' managers the game has ever seen and therefore clearly more suited to club management, shows that the FA really don't have many options that look much better than what they once had in Sven.

The debate over whether to hire an English or foreign coach seems ridiculous. Look no further than how things ended up with their last English coach and it should prove that it doesn't matter where you're from - the only thing that matters is the ability to do the job.

My ideal candidate? José Mourinho. At least it would be entertaining. But not only that, Mourinho is one of the finest managers currently out of the game - or indeed in the game. He hasn't said too much about it, but I feel if the FA made a serious offer, he'd at least consider it.

Mourinho's tactical nous is far superior to that of McLaren's, his motivational skills are excellent, and unlike McLaren, he wouldn't bow to the popular public opinion. McLaren was more than happy to change formations for the first match against Croatia after pressure from the press, and was also happy to put Scott Carson in goal for the crucial second match against the Croats, despite having two goalkeepers with experience of playing at a major tournament in David James and Paul Robinson. Mourinho on the other hand, was so determined not to have his chairman dictate the squad selections at Chelsea that he eventually lost his job.

Isn't that the kind of man the English side needs? Not to mention that Mourinho has the ability to beat down even the biggest of egos - after all, nobody in the dressing room should be more full of themselves than him.

As more and more people continue to rule themselves out for the position, it's time the FA put their money where their mouth is and go after the best man for the job - whether they've claimed they want the job or not.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Road to South Africa 2010

Looking Forward - Scotland's Future
By Abigail Richards

In the aftermath of yet another failed qualifying campaign, Scotland can at least take great heart in their gutsy and impressive performances over the past 14 months. Those performances have seen an unprecedented rise through the FIFA Rankings to the all-time high of 13th place. Putting that into perspective, Scotland are now ranked higher than the USA, a country with almost 60 times the population, and Greece, the current European champions.

This rise will almost certainly see Scotland announced as second seeds when the European qualification groups for the World Cup in 2010 are drawn in Durban on Sunday; meaning that there will be no repeat of this campaign's "group of death", which of course featurd both the winners and runners up of the last World Cup.

Scotland can therefore take comfort in the fact that, rankings wise, they should be the second-best side in their group meaning a second place finish should be more than feasible. With a group of players who seem capable of making through at least another two campaigns, with a couple of exceptions, it's fair to say that the future is bright for Scotland.

Of course before we deal with the future we're forced to think about what could have been in the present. Many have blamed Scotland's exit on the official for the crunch game against Italy. But while Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez certainly had what can only be described as an 'off day', Italy had as many decisions ruled against them as the Scots. It just happened that Scotland were the unlucky ones on the night.

Where to start? Gonzalez ruled an onside goal to be offside and an offside goal to be onside. The former being an Antonio Di Natale effort when at 1-0, Italy were dictating the play, and the latter being Barry Ferguson's plucky equaliser following a Gianluigi Buffon parry. But most heartbreakingly of all, Gonzalez and his assistants' worst moment came in the dying minutes of the game. When a draw seemed almost certain, Alan Hutton was barged into and yet somehow had a free kick decision go against him. That Italy scored the winner from this clearly incorrect decision was desperately unfair to Scotland who had matched Italy in almost every department, with the notable exception of concentration in the opening minutes of the match.

It is from this that Scotland can take most heart. Against two of the world's best sides, they didn't lie down and accept defeat as they perhaps would have in the past. Two incredible 1-0 victories over France and a desperately unlucky loss against Italy have proven that Scotland can rub shoulders with the world's elite and not look at all out of place. The resilience shown by the side, who simply refused to give up, was rewarded by the thousands of proud Scotland fans who applauded their fallen heroes as they took to a victory lap following the game.

It is, of course, unfair to blame all of the side's misgivings on poor refereeing. The fact that Scotland conceded a goal after just 68 seconds underlined the slow and uneasy start the Scots made to the match. With the exception of the outstanding Alan Hutton, the Scotland defence were little better than average throughout. Stephen McManus and David Weir are good defenders by Scottish Premier League standards, but against the attacking trio of Di Natale, Luca Toni and Mauro Camoranesi they did at times look to be out of their depth. At 37, Weir simply doesn't have the pace to keep up with a quick front man, whereas McManus is the perfect defender...with the exception of his marking capabilities.

One must wonder why there was no place in the starting eleven for Gary Caldwell, scorer of the only goal of the game against France at Hampden last October. Why, when Russell Anderson was in the form of his life for Aberdeen last season, could he not get a look in past the aging Weir? And there are a plethora of younger center backs who could all do the job in the Scotland defence, including Caldwell's brother Stephen, Hearts captain Christophe Berra, Andy Webster (when fit) and even Steven Pressley who, at 34, still has three years on Weir. Surely with the race to Austria and Switzerland now over it's time for Weir to step down and let one of the younger, quicker players take his place.

Left-back, a position highlighted to be Scotland's weak spot by Calcio Italia (No. 147, Nov 2007) is another place the Scots need to look to strengthen. Gary Naysmith has done the job on and off down the left flank for several years, but he isn't the player he once was, and had to drop down a division to Championship side Sheffield United in the close season for regular first team football. His current backup, Graham Alexander, has never played at the highest level and at 36 is not a viable long-term option. With Hutton's emergence on the right Scotland need to make the left side equally as strong, and with options such as Rangers kid Stevie Smith and Derby left-back James McEveley, Scotland need to start looking to strengthen their defence.

With a stronger backline protected by Craig Gordon, Alan Hutton would be allowed the opportunities to press further forward without fear of being over-exposed at the back, and with the extra muscle and speed in the middle of the park, this could allow for one of the five man midfield to be pushed forward into a second striker role, something which Scotland looked as though they could have used on Saturday. McFadden is a quality player but lacks the experience of playing the full 90 minutes and often plays better behind a more out-and-out striker such as Kenny Miller or Kris Boyd. Boyd in particular is the Gary Lineker sort of player who has a habit of getting a goal in the box. With McFadden supplying the front man as opposed to being the man in the goalscoring position himself, perhaps the effort in the 80th minute wouldn't have ended up just past the post.

Overall however, there are certainly more positives than negatives. With McLeish looking to be sticking around for the foreseeable future (fingers crossed), it is with great optimism and a small hint of expectation that Scotland look to next September and the start of the journey to South Africa in 2010.