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Those chequebook accusations come again
I know it is an eternal battle, but can we all agree that Mourinho is a chequebook manager. Who else could spend over £300 million on his squad and still say it isn’t good enough and he’ll need to spend another £150 million to compete. He is saying it himself! Sure go to his ‘Porto’ team and talk about that achievement, but the man himself is the first manager ever to spend over £1 billion in transfers.
But who am I trying to kid, I’m just jealous. Imagine being the fan of a club that was ambitious, with a manager that was ambitious and had players who were ambitious. Because as an Arsenal fan, that is all we have. Imagining.
John Matrix AFC
Some good ones on Ireland
So Ireland lost at home to Serbia. An undoubtedly disheartening result in terms of our qualification prospects. However, this loss hurts far less than the point we ‘earned’ away in Georgia.
While Georgia are certainly better than their ranking of 112th in the world would suggest – and people already automatically attributing three points to Wales have clearly forgotten that Georgia already drew 1-1 in Wales – the performance of the Irish team in Tblisi was truly abysmal; 26% possession, 62 completed passes in the entire first half.
I know our place on the world stage. It ain’t under the banner of world beaters. However, we are not as bad as the reductive and soul crushing hoof-ball peddled in Georgia; and oh, how I wish that it were a one-off.
However, credit where it is due. O’Neill saw how bad they played and made some changes. Exit Whelan and Arter. Enter Meyler and Hoolahan. And the difference was marked. The midfield suddenly had energy, balance, mobility, bite. Not only that, but passes were going to, what are they called again, oh yeah, feet.
Yes, we lost, beaten by the game’s one true moment of class. However, I can take that. There is no shame in being beaten by a moment like it. Furthermore, with the exception of Seamus Coleman, our era of having world class players is behind us. We have no longer have a Robbie Keane to nick a goal from the small cross section of clear chances we create. We were chasing the game with Shane Long and Daryl Murphy; game lads, always, but with 18 goals between them over 97 caps.
Yes, we lost, but we are not out of this group yet. With two games to go second place is still firmly within our grasp and our control. There are few sane Irish fans that would not have ripped that prospect from your hands at the outset. We have Moldova at home and an equally shaky and beatable Welsh team away… There has to be hope in the fact that our Celtic cousins are perhaps the only country in Europe to rival us for last minute, last game qualification heartbreak.
Yes, we lost, but we played with spirit and character, our two greatest assets at the moment. We can still do this. And with players like Seán Maguire, Daryl Horgan and Scott Hogan knocking around the fringes, there are even players who can get a few, what are they called again, oh yeah, goals.
Please pick ’em Martin.
John (curiously upbeat considering), Ennis
…Oh the perils of being an Irish football follower!
Play conservative and draw away. Open up a bit for a must-win game at home, play a lot better (in terms of work-rate anyway), and we lose. It’s seems MON is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
Having said that, Ireland’s pool of players are simply not good enough for sustained pushes for WC Qualification. Currently, it’s generally a mish-mash of lads that either play at the upper-end of the championship, were recently sold/relegated from the PL or feature now and again/don’t feature at all for mid-table/bottom-half PL teams. And Seamus Coleman.
I mean James McClean quite possibly made a record number of interceptions last night (haven’t the stats on hand to back it up), but he just isn’t a very good footballer. Invariably most of the tackles he makes are due to him giving the ball away originally, while he is always guaranteed a yellow for a rash tackle. Yet, his work-rate makes him virtually an indispensable member of the first XI, which is a sad indictment of the state of the game in the country at present.
Wes Hoolahan too is talked up as the messiah of Irish football. As the only man in the whole land capable of threading a pass. But he’s 35 now, and a succession of managers at both club and international level have never trusted him to either last a full game, nor play twice in a week. I’d like to think professional, licensed coaches are able to spot flaws to a player better than impassioned fans.
The long and short of it is that Ireland have scored NINE goals in the qualifiers so far. The same number as Israel and one more than renowned footballing power-houses Luxembourg and Cyprus. Only Azerbaijan (8) have scored less among the countries in contention to qualify in Europe. Robbie Keane was ridiculed for much of his Irish career for his propensity to “only” score against the “minnows”, but they are the sides we historically have struggled to beat anyway. His record of 68 International goals looks all the more ridiculous now.
Some observers point to the popularity and playing numbers of particularly GAA, but also rugby, as a valid excuse to why Ireland’s stock has fallen in football. But ultimately it comes down to poor coaching at under-age level, a very-poorly ran FA, whose CEO earns circa 400K per year but yet they can’;t inject cash into struggling clubs, and a national league that is generally under-attended and under-advertised.
The fans deserve more.
…Before last night, I had never gone into an Ireland game knowing we would lose – but against Serbia I knew. There were two reasons for this. One, because the performance in the draw against Georgia last week was the worst I’d ever seen from a football team on a television. And two, because our manager spent every press conference since talking about how rubbish we are. I particularly liked when he said there’s no “quick fix” to Ireland’s failure to hold onto the ball; true enough, and there’s no long-term fix either if you don’t even try to train it.
We’ve a substantial history in Ireland of blaming the manager, solely, for the failings of our national team, but it’s hard not to when all this particular one talks about is giving it “a real go” and how his players will put “their heart and soul into it”. Michael Cox tweeted during the Euros last summer that Ireland were the worst defensively organised team he had seen at the championships (he was also irrationally furious that we had beaten Italy but that reaction can wait for another day) and you couldn’t argue with him.
Now, we still have a chance of course. More than likely we’ll go into the last game against Wales knowing that a win will move us back into second place (though us and “53% Brexit vote”, as I like to call them, are both currently on course to be worst runners-up, and hence not even be allowed into the qualifiers). But it’s depressing. Nothing is changing in Irish football; we’re still tactically and philosophically stuck in the caves, praying for an Irish Gareth Bale to come along and rescue us.
Stephen O’S, MUFC
Again, you can’t blame the Premier League for England
Apologies – a bit late and all that, plus not long until the domestic ding dong return so I am sure everyone is looking forward to never ending Arsenal emails again (did they ever stop?!), but just wanted to add a couple of thoughts to the England debate that may or may not be approved by Johnny Nic.
Firstly, I do think England are not all that bad. It really does feel that if the coach can grab hold of them and mould them into a coherent attacking unit then they could easily strike fear into many teams at the World Cup through an incisive, pacy and direct counter-attacking style. Whether there is a coach out there who can do that (either proud Englander or Johnny Forrin doesnt matter), especially when you have players as brainless as the Ox is a moot point.
Secondly, does our modern malaise/hand-wringing for the national team stem from the changes in the domestic game ever since the Premier League jumped onto our table and shook it’s sequined booty at us?
A case in point, back in the 70s and 80s it seems there were loads of footballing heroes in every side, ‘mavericks’ sprinkled lavishly across the game at all levels, names that make our fathers and grandfathers go all misty eyed in remembrance. And yet England seemed to be quite appalling back in those days, at least according to their qualifying and World Cup/Euro record up until 1990.
But back then we had very little exposure to the rest of the world, and the domestic ‘product’ was exactly that, full of homegrown footballers from these shores. It was all we knew and the standard we thought was good or acceptable was commensurate with what we saw each week bar the odd European night or World Cup every four years.
Since the 90s the Premier League has imported some of the best talent from across the globe and, as a TV audience, we are now exposed to so much football played in other leagues and in inter-continental competitions on a daily basis. Our standard of what is good or acceptable has risen.
Meanwhile England have stayed pretty much the same level they always have. Whilst FIFA rankings are not infallible, they at least give an historical guide. According to the FIFA website England’s highest ever position was 4th (1997) and lowest was 21st (1995) and has an average of 10th. We are currently 13th.
Yes these rankings only began in 1993, but it is not impossible to see that England have remained within that range pretty much throughout their history (maybe with that one exception in 1966). In other words, we have always been a team that qualifies for the tournaments (most of the time) and gets to the Quarter-finals/Semi-finals occasionally in a good year, just as our rankings history suggests.
So as our viewing has broadened and the talent we have been exposed to has increased, our national team has merely stagnated. It hasn’t got worse or better, but because of our perceptions of how the game can be played and the skill/technique that can be achieved we all think that England have got so much worse in comparison.
I don’t know if that is an original enough thought on the England question, but just what is swimming around in my head at the moment.
Rob (I miss mavericks), Leicester
Want your kid to play for England? Make him a defender
Fascinating email from Andy, London. What a great insight. And he’s absolutely right. I’m father to five boys so I’ve watched an awful lot of kids’ football over the last 15 years.
During that time I’ve seen some amazing young players, kids that you think might actually go on and have a career. But they have ALL been midfielders and forwards. Seriously. Not a single defender.
Anyone wondering how Gary Cahill has amassed 57 (!) England cups should think no further.
On the UEFA qualifying mess
Just like Klaus, Munich I think Africa’s qualifying system is much more exciting than UEFA’s. They’re down to 20 teams in five groups of four, only the winners going through.
It got me thinking. What would the rest of the world do with 20 teams vying for five places? Well…
In South America they’d have one big group of 20 teams playing 38 games each. Top five go through.
In Asia they’d have two groups of ten. Top two from each go through. Third placed teams compete in a playoff.
And in UEFA we’d have three groups, of 6/7/7 teams. Winners of each group go through. Best second placed team goes through. And the other two second placed teams meet in a playoff.
UEFA qualifying is a mess.
Old Player Of The Year
Something occurred to me when doing one of those quizzes where you have to name the players or teams who won a certain award or trophy in the last 20 years; we have the Player of the Year and the Young Player of the Year awards, so why not an award for Old Player of the Year?
I appreciate the name might need some work (and apologies if this has been mooted in a previous mailbox), but why can’t we celebrate the best player of a certain age (say, over 34)? In some ways, it’s as big an achievement as being the best young player, as it’s a testament to your longevity and maybe having to adapt your game to reflect your advancing years.
Again, and I realise I’m beating the same lovely drum here, but praise is due for your recognition of a) Gazza’s mental illness and addiction as most definitely not ‘nonsense, and b) calling the Sun out when they continue to suggest that it is.