Plus, is Lewandowski really much better than Vardy? And is Ramsey really misused..?
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Chris Smalling: Future England captain
All this praise for Chris Smalling is well deserved but is also very long in the making.
Smalling, along with Jonny Evans and Phil Jones, started off extremely well for United a few years back but never seemed to progress. They were all youngsters when they first played for us with all the potential in the world and, after watching them play their first seasons, I honestly thought at least one of them would become a natural successor to Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand. But the problem with the three of them, as I see it, is they had all a good first year as youngsters, and the potential was there for all to see. But they just didn’t progress.
They simply had their first year every year and just didn’t advance at all.
Evans should have been moved on a few years before he actually was because he was a bit of a liability. Towards the end of his spell at United, he actually became quite bossy towards his fellow defenders, waving his arms around, frowning and shouting and generally carrying on as if he actually knew what he was doing and blaming others for his own shortcomings. Jones is a bit different because he clearly has real talent. Do you remember when he first joined us that he was being spruiked as a future England captain? For heaven’s sake, he was being spruiked as the new Duncan Edwards!
Anyway, back to Smalling. Albeit it took him a long time to start to make his mark, he has progressed to the point that he has to be amongst the best three central defenders in the Premiership and is arguably the best at the moment. Oh, if only Evans could have had the same learning curve and been a realistic partner to Smalling. But it wasn’t to be so we now need to wait and see how a Smalling and Jones partnership works out.
Personally, I think they will do well but they haven’t played too many games together so the jury is probably out. Jones has to quell his tendency to make glaring errors such as mistimed back passes to de Gea or badly judged tackles which give the other team a goal scoring opportunity which he seems to do at least once a game. And Smalling really has to stop clutching the oppositions’ shirts and clearly making fouls in the penalty area. By my own observations, Smalling should give away at least one penalty per game and I can’t really understand why refs don’t call it.
Personally, I think the future England captain might be Smalling, rather than Jones.
Comparing Smalling with Cannavaro
Amidst the (entirely justified) praise for Chris Smalling, I can’t help but feel a massive point has been missed.
Smalling is still only 26. For a player who didn’t grow up in a major academy, and who through fitness and selection has struggled for a consistent run of games, playing in a position where players tend to peak later, and having had his career disrupted by the turmoil of Moyes, Smalling is hardly a late developer.
Rio (far more talented, and celebrated from his teenage years as a wonderkid) joined at United at 23, and wasn’t consistently at his best until 2005 at the earliest. Vidic joined United at a similar age, and emerged c.2008 as a genuinely elite defender.
Cannavaro only became an Italy regular in his mid-20s, won the Ballon D’Or at 34, and was playing at an elite level well into his mid-30s. Thuram, Nesta et al. all peaked in their mid/late 20s at the earliest.
Judged against these careers, Smalling is currently at the same age and stage where elite defenders tend to move to an elite club as first XI players. This isn’t a grand redemptive story of player saving their career. This is a player widely acknowledged as highly talented emerging into an elite defender at about the same stage of their career that most elite defenders (who aren’t Paolo Maldini) do.
Is Lewandowski really better than Vardy?
For all the ex-pros and Daily Mail sports writers coming out to say that it’s the foreigns what ruined our game with all their diving and stuff, we do have a fascination with all things foreign in football.
We’ll look at some fancy Dan from the continent and be mesmerised by his flair and panache, and yet deride the English equivalents for being profligate or wasteful in possession. For trying tricks and being un-stereotypical English. I’m thinking Joe Cole the early years, Wilshere, Barkley. When Cleverley played keep-ball it was derided. Carrick is overrated whereas Xabi Alonso is pined for. I won’t even bother talking about Rooney, who everyone else bar his own supporters think is top class.
Now we have the great Lewandowski, who after a rather subdued season out last has been ripping it up, especially (and unsurprisingly) in the Bundesliga. Yes, he’s got some pedigree and is a generally good player, but why are we forgetting that he’s playing for one of the great clubs that absolutely dominate their pretty mediocre league?
Is he honestly so much better than, say, Vardy or Kane? Our league is far stronger across the board, and our performances in Europe are as much down to the efforts required in the league as to our ability. Yet those two have shown their ability to score lots for much worse teams against much tougher rivals.
I’ve been a fan of Lewandowski for a few years, and really wanted us to sign him (I still do) but let’s not fawn too much over him. He’s not the messiah.
Ramsey misused? Pah.
Just wanted to voice an alternative view of Matt Stead’s claims of Aaron Ramsey being misused in the current Arsenal formation.
First, if we just look back to the season before last when, in almost an identical position on the far right of a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 for many games, Ramsey scored goals for fun, was Arsenal’s player of the season and was undoubtedly one of the most dangerous midfielders in Europe. Couldn’t really argue that he was being misused through that period maybe?
Even in the midst of his recently-ended goal drought, Ramsey gets into countless goal-scoring positions, only to fluff his lines in terms of the actual goal-scoring. A fair criticism would be that his finishing at present is pants, but a midfielder who regularly finds himself with chances to score can hardly be seen as a tactical flaw of Wenger.
Your article itself highlights Ramsey’s league-high run of shots without scoring, but is that not the exact criticism often (fairly) thrown at Arsenal, a hesitance to shoot or inability to create shooting chances, rather passing aimlessly around the box? As frustrating as his lack of goals has been, Ramsey creates opportunities with regularity, a likely consequence of starting higher up the pitch.
If you tend to watch Arsenal matches only via highlight packages/MOTD, this point here might seem nonsensical, but those at the Emirates will have a clear view of the balance having Bellerin & Ramsey on the same ‘wing’ provides. Bellerin (are there many better RBs in the league at present?) is consistently level with the furthest-forward striker, whilst Ramsey plays to a relatively free role, filling gaps & adhering to the short intricate passing that eventually broke down Watford this weekend gone.
This isn’t anything unique to Arsenal, as countless teams purposefully play a particularly attacking full back with less of an out-&-out winger (e.g. Kolarov + Nasri). Even at Arsenal, the opposite is in play on the other side, with the more defensively-minded Monreal providing some kind of balance with Alexis ahead of him.
Anyway, where does it say that a wide midfielder *has* to be a winger? I’m sure others can think of examples of wide midfielders more skillful than Ramsey being played in a similar position to success – one immediate example coming to mind would be Barcelona playing Iniesta in a wide-ish spot – but I just get a little tired of hearing criticisms of Wenger’s choice to start Ramsey in this role.
Jose Mourinho and the world’s smallest violin
Oh look, here comes José Mourinho, putting the offensive in charm offensive.
Was his woe-is-me interview meant to invoke sympathy, and swing the pendulum of receding public popularity and, crucially for José, media support? Or was it just more self-pitying, delusional verbal diarrhoea from the Donald Trump of football management?
With Mourinho, it’s hard to tell. The way he builds siege mentalities is undoubtedly a significant strength, but his reputation for ‘mindgames’ depends on the audience and what we perceive. Is it manipulation, deflection and psychological warfare, or just the arrogant random-fire bleating of noxious man whose only steadfast belief is in the beautiful sound of his own voice.
What we can be clearer on, however, is that if there’s any manager who deserves no sympathy for having few friends or suffering the pressures of modern football it’s Mourinho. From the egregious gamesmanship of his Porto side to the media vendettas to the chequebook management (and associated neglect of nurturing youth) of his two stints at Chelsea, he is every inch the modern-era manager. And the level of respect he shows fellow managers, referees, his own staff and even the ballboys is such that it’s a wonder he can count on any friends in the game.
If he makes it to retirement with no friends but free from self-contempt, he’ll have got off lightly.
In response to Joe’s ‘another Leeds S**tshow’ mail from this morning, you are totally right. The words “hate to say I told you so” come to mind. I wrote that overly optimistic email, and ever since then it has been all downhill. I’m going to have to apologize to Leeds fans everywhere for tempting fate so stupidly.
Every time I hope Cellino he has turned a corner, another manager gets the boot. Him getting a permanent ban could be just about the best thing to happen to LUFC at the moment. And Steve Evans? Don’t even get me started on that. Just looking at the picture of him in a sombrero makes me shudder.
Oh well, back to having no expectations I go. At least I can’t be crushed that way!
Niall (giving Evans 6 games in charge, you heard it here first), London
… In response to Joe’s email this morning, I must say that as a Man Utd fan, even I find it extremely disappointing that people such as Cellino are allowed to continue to using football clubs as penis extensions.
I have no soft spot for Leeds United, but the upshot is that they are a big club with a proud history, and their downfall, while partly self-inflicted, is now being made much worse by the actions of a man who clearly has absolutely no idea how to run a football club at all. And this brings me to my main point.
People like Massimo Cellino; how on earth do these people get to where they are? Into such positions of power and wealth? We’re not talking about a Mike Ashley here; a man whose running of Newcastle is clearly based on some kind of semi-logical, financial straight jacket, coupled with the running of a giant sportswear firm. We’re talking about a man who is little more than a narcissist. How on earth has he made it this far in life? How on earth do people who behave like that become so rich in the first place?
Every decision he makes is nothing short of absolutely awful. If someone at my work went through 5 managers in 12 months, there’d be an investigation. At some point the spotlight must focus on the guy doing the recruiting, and yet nothing happens at all.
Something stinks, when you think about it, and it makes you wonder just how deep the FA’s “fit and proper owners test” actually digs before signing off on these people. The same goes for Venky’s and their cosmic destruction job on Blackburn Rovers, who sat 7th in the Premier League when they took over, with their business plan clearly being little more than to asset strip the club of its best players and then exploit fan loyalty.
The whole thing stinks.
Harry The Man
Well nine games into the new season we are not a million miles from where I thought we would be. We’ve not scored many goals and we haven’t conceded many either. Good performances away at Everton and Newcastle, whilst a disappointing ones at home against West Brom and Palace.
The defence and Gomes have been brilliant, only Everton (2), Arsenal (3) and Man City (2) have scored more than once against us and I would anticipate that continuing. Nyom puts in great shifts at right back whilst Prödl and Cathcart seem to have developed a very good partnership. Gomes is doing a very good job of marshalling them and as yet hasn’t really dropped any clangers (we all know that a couple are coming).
In front of the solid back four Capoue and Watson/Behrami have been solid if unspectacular, some nice through balls here or there and consistently breaking up play and shielding the back 4. Whilst up front Deeney and Ighalo have linked up well and created a reasonable number of half chances and Ighalo has buried a few. So far the real disappointment has been the wide midfielders, crosses consistently over hit or hitting the first man. Particularly from corners and free kicks (inexcusable).
Next three Stoke (a), West Ham (h) and Leicester (a). Probably 4 or 5 points would be par. Then Villa, Norwich and Sunderland to come before a very tough Christmas/new year period. If we can get four or more wins from those six fixtures I will be very happy.
Finally, the talk of the three promoted teams results this weekend. Whilst Watford lost 3-0 to Arsenal, it was 0-0 after an hour, the game was close and arsenal’s superior quality, fitness and options from the bench made the difference. I would hardly consider it as bad as either Bournemouth or Norwich’s results. Bournemouth conceded five to a city side missing both Aguero and Silva (just think how ugly it could have been) and Norwich got humiliated by a Newcastle side that have been awful for about a year, they also doubled their goal tally for the season.
Watford lost 2-0 to a fully powered City (no shame in that) and beat Newcastle 2-1 in the corresponding fixtures. I would say (and the table agrees) we are doing better than both the other promoted sides.
Colin (Deeney will score soon and open the floodgates) Watford FC
Tempering the G Nev love
In response to The literary Ed Quottheraven. Yeah, it’s nice touch. BUT…
Ultimately that building is a development investment to make £££. If the ex Man Utd players had bought it and said it’s for the homeless. Full stop. We are doing nothing else with it, then I would have more respect.
Also, it’s possible/probable that because the homeless were squatting there anyway, rather than forcibly remove them, they struck up a deal knowing the PR would be positive, and knowing that the proper renovation doesn’t start until February anyway.
In conclusion, the homeless will still eventually be removed so super rich ex footballers can get even richer, and the homeless will still be homeless.
I know. I’m being sceptical.
A Coventry fan is excited
On Sunday we signed Joe Cole
Oh my word – what a time to be alive!!!!!!
Adam (Cov Fan) Coventry
More love for the ‘recommended reads’
Just wanted to say great work on the ‘Recommended reading of the day” section that now ends Mediawatch.
I started reading Football365 back in January 2006 (ten years ago soon! We should have a party) when I first moved to London and a new colleague recommended it. Over the years had a few mails published and it’s felt like home ever since. The only fault I’ve found fault with in all this time is the “Non Football Story of the Day”, where nearly every day without fail I’d be halfway through my lunch and read something about a severed penis or someone taking a dump, whatever the story it would make me feel sick and every day I vowed to email asking you to put a warning there but forgot. Every single day I forgot!
But now you’re publishing articles that are an absolute pleasure to read that I honestly wouldn’t find myself (haven’t heard of some of the sites like The Swiss Ramble for example), great work and much appreciated.
Here’s to another ten years.