Mails: Is Benitez the signing of the season?

Date published: Thursday 10th March 2016 3:12


The excitement is building
Liverpool may not be at the top of English football any more, but I tell you what it sure makes it more fun to have Man Utd scrabbling around in the dirt (sorry, I mean Europa league) with us. I never thought I could get excited about a round-of-lots Europa league tie but bing-bam-boom I sure am looking forward to tonight.

If Liverpool turn up, I can’t see Man Utd living with us. Any two of Sturridge, Can, Firmino and Coutinho on form and I think we’ll run out 3-0 winners. Can and Firmino seem the most likely match-winners.

That said, we have Mignolet in goal so Man Utd will probably score 3 goals despite only managing 1 shot on target.
If Liverpool don’t turn up… at least I’ll be in the pub and alcohol will be close by.
Jura (given last weekend’s performance, maybe we should start with 10 men? I’d suggest going without Mignolet)


English teams in Europe
‎It’s worrying the rate at which English teams get dumped out of the UCL the moment they face any decent opposition with an actual gameplan.
Chelsea haven’t lost in the EPL since Hiddink took over. All losses have come in the only two European games. So much for the quality of the league.

I understand that Chelsea have been underwhelming this season and PSG have been amazing but the blues still managed to top their group ‎despite struggling in the league pre-Christmas.

Arsenal have been the worst culprit in this regard. We all have been worried about Arsenal’s Champions League record for half a decade now. Always doing just enough to finish 2nd in the group stage and then get drawn with one of the European heavyweights and subsequently get knocked out.

This year they are quarter of the way out of Europe.

Manchester City could be the only English team left in the competition come next week. And you’d fancy them getting drawn against one of the Top teams in the quarter finals of the competition. You won’t want to place a bet on them winning as their record in the top games this season have been pretty abysmal.

Can’t say if it’s the tactics implemented by managers in the league or the brand and style of the English football. The FA doesn’t help with match scheduling and insisting on playing through the Christmas holidays when other European leagues have their breaks. While players in the Spanish and German leagues come back fresher after the break, English teams already have overplayed their star players out of form or lost them to injury.
Smith (Glorious when the commentators scream ‘Firminoooooo! Goal!’)


Arsenal: The over-achieving under-achievers
Dave (Arsenal) Herts summed up a lot of my feelings as an Arsenal fan, and also those of the vast majority of Arsenal fans I know. I get frustrated when Arsenal fans (or any club’s fans) are spoken of us a homogenous group where every fan feels or acts the same way, or when someone refers to “the majority of fans” without having done a survey to the required statistical level (i.e. never). So I won’t speak for all fans on a particular issue, but what I can say is that while there are numerous Arsenal fans who act like spoilt toddlers and whose behaviour at matches / on social media / in excellent website mailboxes is pathetic and very unhelpful, there are also many fans who are dedicated and passionate yet also reasonable and realistic (like there are for many clubs). So often it is the extremes who get the media attention (hello clickbait), while those in the middle who support the team for 90 minutes without booing and sadly sip their pint in the pub after another disappointing result get overlooked, no matter how many of them there are.

Wenger certainly does deserve criticism for some decisions over the last few years. However it’s interesting that this season is causing him to receive so much abuse. You can’t “aim” for 3rd or 4th place: a manager sets up his team to try and win as many games as possible, and you see where you are at the end of the season. It’s not like Wenger is some demented magician who is able to slot Arsenal into the league table wherever he chooses. Considering in the last few seasons at some point we’ve finished above the financial powerhouses and recent winners of City, United and Chelsea, and this year look like we will finish above all three, there is no simple way to explain a team managing to both overachieve and underachieve at the same time. City, United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs have all had at least one poor season recently, whereas Arsenal haven’t had anything below an “average” season in 20 years. The problem is there is no trophy for two average seasons, whereas fans will often accept one great season and one rubbish one since it will probably mean silverware. But (in my view) it’s very complicated to explain why Arsenal have failed to win the league for so long. Saying we should be walking the league when the rest are so poor massively overlooks the fact that Arsenal are doing significantly better than many teams that were expected to finish above them (and of course Leicester are doing significantly significantly (etc) better) – it’s not like Chelsea and United have just given up (no matter what it may look like).

The main point I wanted to make was this: this season it’s very likely that a team will win the league who haven’t thrown huge (or in some cases any) amounts of money at every problem, and have instead attempted to identify good young talent and a cohesive system of playing. And given Arsenal’s philosophy it’ll be ironic (don’t you think) if that team isn’t Wenger’s. I appreciate that Arsenal have more money than Spurs and of course significantly more than Leicester, but will whichever managers don’t win the league receive similar criticism to Wenger for not improving their squads: all of the top four, while having strong first XIs, have glaring holes in the depths of their squads. If either of them receive any major injuries or don’t have players who can be rotated when necessary, will there be the criticism for not addressing these that Wenger has been getting? If Vardy or Kane get injured, will the phrase “Charlie Austin for £4m” come out?
James, North London Gooner (sorry for the lack of variation in topic, I’ll try harder next time)


Benitez: Potential signing of the season
Is nobody else reading the (increasingly sure-of-themselves) reports of a Mr. Benitez, R. to Newcastle and wondering how much more backwards this season can get? If these reports are true – and they’ve been hovering around for a while, getting more certain in tone every day – then this is a team plum in the middle of a relegation scrap and nine points away from 16th closing in on appointing a manager whose last five jobs were for teams who’ve won the European Cup 19 times between them! Newcastle may be a sleeping giant and might be able to throw a few bags marked with dollar signs his way, but this is ‘punching above their weight’ at the level of everyone’s favourite decrepit media oligarch marrying a former American supermodel.

Joking aside though, if Newcastle can tempt Rafa away from white wine and tapas in the Med to the acquired architectural stylings of that there North – even if just until the end of the season, although F365’s report mentions a 3 year deal(!!) – then it could be a season saving appointment. Since the turn of the millennium, Rafa hasn’t had a job with lower than a 48% win percentage, which would see Newcastle take a healthy 15-20 points from their final ten games and safely home and dry past the forty point barrier, frantically panting and glancing back to see the placid, accepting faces of Remi Garde and Alex Neil slip slowly into the Championship whilst the last drops of Big Sam’s spittle flecks their cheek as he tumbles down, Wahbi Khazri weeping silently in John O’Shea’s understanding arms.

I’ve got carried away there.

I appreciate it will be hard for Benitez to instigate that sort of form as soon as he comes in – the player’s confidence is clearly shot, as is their desire to go and win a game of football – and there may be horns locked between Ashley and Rafa, what with neither of them possessing tact or subtlety by the bucket, but surely he gives the best chance of anyone for survival? Newcastle have tried the club hero before, they’ve tried the beige yes-man (God how they’ve tried the beige yes-man), so maybe now it’s time to try the Champion’s League, Europa League, FA Cup and La Liga winner? They’re not exactly queuing up after all.

Do Newcastle fans reckon Rafa could save their season?
Joe, Telford, LUFC
(Hoping this will get in by virtue of a Rupert Murdoch joke)


Chelsea thoughts
After having some time to reflect on Chelsea’s Champions League exit last night, I thought I’d share my thoughts on where it has all gone wrong this season.

I think it has come down to three things: not replacing our powerful midfield, losing our English core and losing strength in depth.

1. At our best, we had powerful box to box midfielders in Essien, Lampard and Ballack who were all leaders in the team. Abramovic wanted more exciting football. We therefore bought small tricky midfielders like Willian, Oscar, Hazard, Pedro and Fabregas. Only Fabregas out of that lot could be considered a leader but none of them score as regularly or dominate a midfield battle like their predecessors.

2. At our best, we had Ashley Cole, Joe Cole, Lampard and Terry who would play most games. With Terry injured and leaving at the end of the season, Gary Cahill is the only English player who can currently get in the team (and that is only because Zouma is injured). Loftus-Cheek may play more in the future but is currently behind a shockingly bad Matic in the pecking order.

3. At our best, we had two international players for every position. The squad players we bought this season include Djilobodji, Miazga, Pato and Falcao. Terrible transfer business and technical director Michael Emanalo has to take the blame.

Last season’s league win is looking more and more like a fluke as the games go on.

This summer will be an interesting one. The new manager needs to be backed with funds, but I’d like to see him sign players like Ross Barkley and John Stones to try and give us that strong English spine once again.
Shane, London


I didn’t watch the Chelsea game last night because the Champions League is now on BT Sport and no one has that. I’m sure no one watched it other that Chelsea fans at the pub. Anyway, I digress. The reason for me writing in is to ask a simple question. Why in the name of an almighty power did Chelsea get rid of Lukaku? I’d rather have him than the broken psycho beast any day of the proverb.
JazGooner (Will no one think of the co-efficient??)


Would Larry leave?
Here is another thought Nedu, why would Laurent Blanc leave PSG?

You talk as if Blanc moving to United would be a step up for him, and at this point it is necessarily true. PSG have by far the better squad, have an unlimited transfer kitty and are assured Champions League football every year.

United have a squad that is nowhere to being ready to challenge for the title, are not assured Champions’ League football next year, and will have a far harder time attracting top stars to the club.

PSg have shown in the last 3 years that they belong in the Elite of European Football. They might not be where Barcelona and Bayern Munich are in terms of quality, and Real Madrid in terms of swaying power, but it is hard to believe that today Manchester United are a bigger fish in Europe.

Yes their revenues are greater, yes they have their history and yes Blanc played for them. But today, the Premier League is arguably the 3rd best league in the world in terms of quality. And United can not even finish in the top 4.

Keep in mind that next year, Chelsea will be stronger, Pep will be a City and Liverpool will have had a whole summer to build his own team. That does not make United an attractive place to want to work. Nearly impossible expectations with a team, that bar maybe 4 or 5 players, are not Champions League Quality.

Would you trade a midfield of Verratti, Matuidi and Motta, with Rabiot and Pastore on the bench for Fellaini and Mata? Ibra for Rooney? Thiago Silva for Smalling?

I wouldn’t…
Guillaume, Paris


I am getting increasingly sick and tired at supporters of the old big 4 thinking that just because ManU or Chelsea batter their eyelashes and lift their skirts a little, managers and players from round the world will come rushing. Today is a prime example – just because Laurent Blanc is an ex ManU player, and all of a sudden ManU fans notice he’s doing well with PSG they decide that he’s going to be the next man in the hot seat. Why on earth would he join now? He’s manager of one of the richest clubs in the world, guaranteed Champions League football next season and with a much better chance of actually winning the thing than ManU – should they even qualify. It’s arrogance of the highest order, and irritating to the extreme.
Sam, London


Managerial bluffers
An interesting missive from David Fox. David used to be my editor for a blog we both contributed to (or at least I’m pretty sure it’s you, Dave) and even though I’m usually in agreement with him, I think we’ll clash swords when it comes to this growing trend of tarring almost every manager in football as either good or bad, black or white. Case point: Henry James Sandra Redknapp.

Yes, Redknapp is a motor mouth, a human soundbite, and is quick to pass the buck when the blame is being handed around, but tout himself as the new emperor of English football when results are coming in strong. He’s irritating, self-aggrandising, and in my opinion plays on his simple working-class cockerney image to no end, currying favour with the press in the process.

He’s pretty average. But sometimes, a man’s character should not and cannot askew their achievements. Dodgy money spent wildly or not, ensuring Portsmouth’s survival in the 2005/2006 season and then steering them to 9th and 8th in subsequent seasons (as well as winning the FA Cup) ain’t too shabby. The two points from eight games quote is well-versed, but taking Tottenham from an abysmal campaign start, to the league cup final, and next season the Champions league (and 70 points) is some fine, fine work. A win at the San Siro; a quarter final spot. Are we to believe that it was all just lucky old ‘Arry?

I’m by no means a defender of Redknapp, and Spurs’ awful collapse when he had one eye on the England job was laughable. His time at QPR was embarrassing and, actually, a little sad to watch. But that’s the crux of my point – is it really so hard to believe that, sometimes, managers are neither woeful nor divine? Inconsistency is a very human trait; apply that inconsistency to the ever-changing environment of a football managers job which is essentially a juggling act – managing egos, fans ambitions and expectations, the press – before you even get to the actual football, and it’s not hard to see why unless you are the cream of the crop, then sometimes football managers are good and sometimes…they’re shit. You could argue that the ‘juggling act’ is what managers are paid for and if you can’t hack it, then you shouldn’t take the job in the first place. But cutthroat modern-day football and high-level sport isn’t that simple.

Redknapp, like a lot of other gaffers, will remain what he’s always been. A decent manager with some great highs and desperate lows. All I’m saying is, we don’t have to sway from one extreme to the other, and responding the Messianic Media depiction of Redknapp by saying he has had ‘virtually no success’ or dismissing him as a bluffer is, for me, just as fallacious.
Jack, 21, London (hello mailbox my old friend)


Quite frankly, every manager named Steve has been/is a bluffer.

Bruce? Championship good, Premier League not so good.
Cotterill? The League One/JPT double with Bristol City apart, it’s been a bit haphazard really.
Coppell? Tendency to quit when the going got tough.
Evans? Hated by pretty much everyone in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and let’s not get started on his financial irregularities or the Sombrero.
Clarke? Stick to assisting, there’s a good fellow.

Wide berth all round.


I would like to add Neil Warnock to the list of managers that seem to get jobs regardless of previous success.

A man who would blame his gran over himself for any poor performance. An all round, first degree @rse.

And while I’m at it, please add Ian Holloway, I man I despise for reasons too long to go into.
Ben, the Bournemouth Red


Falls from grace
Seeing Julian Speroni in the “fallen from grace” article made me sad, but only because there was a valid point. I was going to write in earlier this week suggesting Speroni could have been included in the “players who stayed after relegation” list, but he didn’t really come into his own for a couple of seasons. He was signed from Dundee ahead of the 2004-05 season, and was initially Iain Dowie’s first choice, but lost his place to Gabor Kiraly, he of the scruffy trackies fame. Kiraly had a very good season, and Speroni found his chances limited. The following season, Kiraly was still first choice, with Speroni’s appearances limited to cup competitions various managers didn’t care about, and filling in while Kiraly was everyone’s favourite emergency loanee. Even when Kiraly left for Burnley, Speroni wasn’t the first choice, as Peter Taylor preferred Scott Flinders (280+ appearances in League Two).

Anyway, as Simon Jordan’s money began to run out, and anyone who was worth anything ended up being sold on, Speroni was a constant presence and as reliable as you’d want a goalkeeper to be. Two seasons ago, I genuinely think there were only a handful of goalkeepers better than him in the Premier League. However, last year, his form dipped. He sustained a head injury early in the season against WBA, courtesy of Craig Dawson’s flying forearm, and I don’t think he’s been the same since – some of the goals he conceded late in the season were down to him reacting too slowly, which is why Alan Pardew has looked elsewhere.

I agree with the article that seeing a genuine modern-day club legend forced to play with the under-21s isn’t quite right, especially when the two ahead of him aren’t setting the world alight. Those two have made high profile errors, but have also made some world class saves. In my heart of hearts, however, I don’t think any of them are quite good enough for where we want to be, although are good enough for where we are now. Also, in Hennessy’s defence, he only shipped 4 goals in 10 games for Wales in Euro 2016 qualifying – only Romania (2), England and Spain (3 each) conceded fewer.

For a final word on Speroni, as it’s more than likely his number will be up before too long, I’ll leave you with this: he signed from Dundee, and last summer he had a testimonial game against the Dees, who brought over 1500 fans for the game, despite it being a 1000-mile round trip.
The literary Ed Quoththeraven


Too Keane?
I saw your headline “Keane angry at Hazard’s shocking half-time antics” and thought that it must be 7/8 words too long…
Jim G (NFFC)


Anagrams are fun
Last time I wrote to you, the Toon were about to appoint Alan Pardew and I gave you the anagrams that proved to be remarkably prescient with a ‘Lawn Parade’ followed by ‘Warped Anal’.

Assuming Rafa does get the gig, we’ll have a ‘Brazen Fat Lie’ presented to the Toon faithful this time.

Not much changes at St. James’ Park does it?
Alex, Malton Mag


Fan mail for Mediawatch
Just negative sniping now, isn’t it?

Stu, London

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