One Man United fan isn't happy with the rate the team is progressing under Louis van Gaal, while the mailbox also wishes Liverpool fans a Merry Mid-Table Christmas...
The afternoon mailbox kicks the morning mailbox's arse after claims that Rafa Benitez has fluked his success. Plus, big talk about Liverpool's progress and lots more...
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Germany's victory in the World Cup finally signalled the shift of football from the sport of the lower classes to a fully middle class sport. This shift has been brewing for years - the switch to full seater, family friendly stadia, the infiltration of corporate sponsorship and the 'prawn sandwich' brigade and the leap in the standards of fitness and skill of the players - and has finally reached its logical conclusion in Brazil 2014.
Football is no longer an institution that ties rough, hardened communities together but instead a soccer mom friendly, elite sport which relies on physiotherapists, sports nutritionists and sports psychologists. This focus on technique, skill and intelligence, rather than hoofing and brute physical strength first espoused by the Dutch FA has now been adopted by most of the leading Football Associations around the world (Belgium, France, Germany etc.) The days of impoverished footballers who came up playing football on the streets are over. Nowadays, top level players need to be on the first steps of their careers before they even hit 10 years old and players like Eden Hazard and Arjen Robben seem to have been made not born. It goes back to the age old debate over innate talent versus learned skill but more and more parents seem to be adopting a similar philosophy to Lazlo Polgar's (who raised two of his daughters to be chess grandmasters). Although this also means that somebody probably taught Robben to dive too!
Many of the people reading this will remember playing youth football on lumpy, dog s**t infested full size pitches that looked like something plucked from the Somme. They'll remember the half-assed 'if in doubt, kick it out' approach of "coaches" or 20 9-year olds all chasing the ball like a herd of bewildered sheep. Individual talent and skill was discouraged and there was always some loud twat shouting, either from the defence or the sidelines. They'll remember the less skilful players whose only attribute was that they'd shot up an extra foot because they were born 3 months earlier than everyone else who would bully them off the ball or, if that tactic wasn't working, scythe them down. Intelligence on the pitch was seen as something dangerous and mercurial that should be actively discouraged in favour of getting the head down, getting to the corner flag and whipping in a cross to the 'big' centre forward.
The new generation of players will grow up playing football on pitches appropriate to their age, where touch and control are prioritised over physical strength. The emergence of France, then Spain and now Germany and the Netherlands as footballing powers has shown how important it is to have players who are completely comfortable on the ball - who don't panic in tight situations. As any gym around the country will show you, fitness and strength is easy. It's technique that's difficult.
The problem, for the Home Nations at least, is that they're still trapped in the past. Contrast that with America where the country's footballing side seems to be getting better and better each and every year after adopting a model not dissimilar to the German one. On this side of the water, we've adopted the trappings of the Dutch/European approach but we have never fully embraced it. Intelligence, both on and off the pitch, is seen as someone getting above their station. Can you imagine Andy Carroll reading Baudelaire on the BBC like Thierry Henry did?
Football in these countries is still trapped in a lower class mentality - which is reflected in the calibre of players being produced. A generation of players who are more interested in their street image, the tittle tattle of the red tops, their next boot deal and which model they're shagging than in the quality of their performance on the pitch. Insular minded individuals who think starting in Premier League is the pinnacle of footballing achievement and that they can relax and enjoy it now that they've made it.
The very few English players who go abroad are still looked upon as some kind of rare, exotic species. Then there's the other ones who go abroad and never make any effort to assimilate into the culture only to return in ignominy the following season with an attitude of 'they never made me feel welcome'. That's why we've suffered in the last 30 years. The game moved on but we stayed the same.
A Pessimistic Liverpooler
Have just seen Arsenal are about to sign Khedira I guess that ends any chance of Liverpool getting in the top four this year - I just can't see us topping any of City, Chelsea, Arsenal or Utd (newly rejuvenated under van Gaal). Indeed, the loss of Suarez may even lead to a similarly poor finish as the 7th place "achieved" after the 2008/9 season (where we also finished second and subsequently sold our most important player -Xavi Alonso).
Consequently, I would emplore Liverpool fans to collectively lower our expectations and not to turn against Rodgers if/when we are miles off the pace at Christmas. We are going to need a lengthy rebuilding process, a long-term vision and a slice of luck to challenge any of the other clubs for honours in the long run.
Finally, there are many reasons to join Arsenal (attractive football, stable Champions League club etc) but I am nonetheless surprised that two world class players such as Sanchez and Khedira (along with Ozil) have chosen to/been allowed to go to Arsenal by the previously richer and certainly more recently successful clubs (Utd, City and Chelsea). Considering the relatively low fees the two players have been recruited for it amazes me that none of these clubs have effectively challenged Arsenal for these players. I was wondering if the mailbox had any thoughts on this? My personal opinion is that nowadays players prefer to live in London rather than anywhere else (see C. Fabregas).
Matt (cheeky pipe dream signing of Reus wouldn't go amiss!)
Luis Filipe Will Be Fine
Kris has no reason to be disappointed in the signing of Felipe Luis. I'll admit, I was a little surprised to learn that he is almost 29, but he is an outstanding player who is solid defensively but also hugely exciting going forward. Chelsea haven't had a full-back like him in over 10 years. In fact he is so skilful that Mourinho decided to play two right-backs against Atleti in the CL semi-final, and still Filipe Luis emerged from the game having dismantled Chelsea's right hand side. I think he had about 3 or 4 nutmegs in that game alone (admittedly not the most important skill for a full-back, but who doesn't love a nutmeg?).
Of all Scolari's failings - and there were many - there are few that rank with leaving Filipe Luis out of the squad. He should have been a starter for Brazil. And given his style of play, I can see him being useful to Chelsea for five years. Better late than never.
We Left It In Deliberately
"Iago Aspas being far below not quite must be beyond being quantified. Maybe it was an inability to learn English?"
There is a certain level irony in that statement from Niall, Denver.
Chris, THFC (Currently have no meaningful contribution regarding Football opinion)
Final Final Word On Talent?Some things can't be taught unfortunately and it's therefore just a choice of words as to what you call that advantage. Teach a 5'6" 18 year old to be 6'7" so they can play competitive basketball. Teach someone who runs the hundred metres in 12 seconds to do it in 10. You cannot do it. Call it what you will a talent or an attribute, but some things can't be taught and they make people better at certain things than others.
Other things can be taught and they are skills, and there is no excuse for people not learning those skills to the best of their natural abilities. That is where the coaching set-up needs to get better to ensure that is being done properly, but a slow player will always be a slow player and a fast player fast. Getting the most from talent by adding skills and getting someone to an elite level involves a lot of things, luck is clearly one, but as someone else said, if all we had to do is teach people Barcelona would be swimming in Messi's and Iniesta's.
More Penalty Thoughts
I like the idea put forward by John (still interested in football even from New Zealand now) French, mainly because it would at least force one team to attack which isn't always guaranteed in extra time (WC 2014 aside).
However, I wouldn't want extra time to be influenced by a pre-determined factor. For the same reason, I'm against the idea of using the number of shots on goals or corner kicks to be used as some kind of tie-break, which also crops up as a solution after every major tournament.
Deep down, most football fans appear to enjoy penalty shoot outs (this is based on my straw poll of three people). Therefore my suggestion, no doubt a highly flawed one, is that all players remaining on the pitch at the end of extra time take a penalty. I see this having the following positives:
- the pressure is shared among all players, perhaps not equally as the shoot-out pans out, but at least it's shared across the whole team.
- no-one has the option of shirking responsibility. If a player wants to avoid taking one, they need to influence the game...though I guess this might lead to an increase in last minute own goals.
- there is an indirect reward for fair play as one red card equals one less penalty taker.
- there will be the comical sight of footballers trying to keep count up to 11.
- as the shoot-out will be longer, ITV would need to squeeze in a quick ad-break after extra time which means less Adrian Chiles.
- goalkeepers will take penalties and who doesn't want to see that?
Of course, if we were German we wouldn't give a f**k either way.
Russell Moseley, Worcester
A Really Fine Mail On Coaching
Really enjoyed the this morning's mailbox, particularly the first few about youth development in the UK and thought I'd offer my personal experiences of the types of problems with our set up people mentioned. Appreciate it's probably a bit long but hopefully it's vaguely interesting in the absence of actual football.
I did alright as a footballer. Injury made me concentrate on going to uni and I most likely wasn't Premier League standard, but I was on the books of a Premier League club, competed abroad against the likes of Ajax and FC Budapest, captained London, and despite being small started playing men's reserves at 16. In that time the following experiences always stuck with me.
On coaching, when I was 11 I went on a tour to Germany. Our team was used to playing 11-a-side on muddy men-size pitches. This meant three things: big lads got stuck at the back because they could boot the ball furthest, fast ones were put up front to fetch it, and we'd only just got past the age where it was better to kick the ball out for a goal kick and sit on the edge of the box rather than win a corner. The teams we played in Germany played 11-a-side too, but on all-weather 7-a-side pitches with hockey goals, which meant the opposite: booting the ball meant it bounced far and ran off, you didn't have the space to run so you had to pass and move (three touch max) and corners were actually relevant. The difference in standard was obvious. Admittedly, the FA have started to fix this at grass roots level (smaller teams, pitches and goals) but that's only recently and my experience was 20 years ago, which puts us at least a couple of generations behind.
The reliance on being a beast / athlete compared to abroad something was also something I saw throughout school. Case in point, when I was 15 I went to Holland and after winning our quarter final I went and watched our potential opponents - Ajax and FC Flota (Poland). Ajax were tiny. I mean, really f**king small. So much so that I actually went and asked their spectators (ok, the girls team I was trying to chat up) how old they were. Turns out the lads were 14 - two years younger than the competition, which at that age is huge (think playground, year 9 v year 11). When I asked why, their coach said they told their players that 1) however fast and strong they were at that age, it was only a temporary advantage they couldn't rely on, and 2) no matter what age you are there will always be someone bigger, faster and stronger than you, so your focus should be on being able to win by tactics and skills instead.
Basically playing two years ahead of themselves in competitions meant they couldn't kick and run, and they spent entire games embarrassing older kids with triangles. FC Flota on the other hand were massive. I'm talking 6ft, stubble - one of them even drove up in his own car, which raised a few eyebrows because I was 15 and two years away from that. Despite obviously not being as good, their physical advantage was just too big and they beat Ajax marginally. Unfortunately we didn't fare so well, probably because being English our game was based on a similar advantage, and we were spanked, but the selection policy and focus for the more continental clubs, along with the standard of their football, was telling.
As for luck, I agree massively, but that's also indicative of our set up. Football is our nation's sport so it's very difficult to get spotted, but even more so when the focus is often on size/athleticism. What we need is more qualified coaches (the numbers compared to other countries is ridiculous) who are able to spot potential and develop it. For that the structure needs to be improved. Pretty much all England players at youth level were picked from the County Schools set-up, which was despite school pitches being bogs, and county football often a joke, with the manager a teacher picking his own. At trials you'd be stuck out of position in an 11-side-game, hoping that in the 3 or 4 times the ball came near you could do something with it, whilst a couple people casually paid attention. Hell, all but one of the grammar schools in my area didn't even play football, choosing rugby and cricket instead.
Finally, it's also about coaching lads outside of sport. Of three of the best players I ever played with: one died from being caught up in drugs, one ended up in prison and another also met a far too early end. At 16 I was the only kid doing A Levels, everyone else having dropped out after GCSEs, and people were being picked up by clubs and dumped just as quickly. Without being rude, most footballers aren't from great backgrounds (one club had to sort my dad a car so I could get to games), which is why most who do make it probably come over as either thick or too focused on flashing the cash when they make it. But any football intelligence they have is more often than not based on instinct rather than education, which is why I think we fawn over someone who actually has it. Coaches rarely explained 'why' we were doing something.
There is a lot wrong with our set up, and personally I think Trevor Brooking has done such astoundingly little in his time it borders on shocking. I don't think we necessarily need to copy a particular country's set up, but I've always liked that when Australia failed to medal in the Olympics one of the things they did was review pretty much every system around the world, pick and mix what they thought would work within their country's infrastructure, and the eventual result was a record haul. We need to do something similar.
David P, Manchester
Just read the non-football story of the day on Mediawatch and I am totally shocked!!
A Milky Bar now costs 49p? The world's gone mad!