The Mailbox is puzzled by the praise for perplexing Sterling

Date published: Thursday 1st April 2021 10:12 - Editor F365

Phil Foden talks to Raheem Sterling

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Swash your buckle
20 minutes in and I’m embarrassed by Raheem Sterling diving to win a penalty, for all of Southgates bluster about playing form players he then drops Shaw for Chilwell. Playing against a back five we still play two holding midfielders, boring predictable and safe, grow some Gareth and swash your bloody buckle for a change FFS
Paul Murphy, Manchester


Turn Lamps off
Almost as depressing as the drab, dire and desperate football served up by Aidy Boothroyd’s U21s was the subsequent relentless Twitter clamour for Frank Lampard to succeed him as manager. Based on what, exactly? The world class tactical acumen that he displayed (ahem) at Chelsea?

If he’s the best we can offer, then football coach development in England is in a sorry state indeed. Where are our Tuchels, Klopps, and Nagelsmanns? Without acknowledging that football management is a completely different skill set to playing, and thus requires a much more academic, technical and forensic approach (that most ex players struggle to provide), we will continue to play catch up in tactical ideas and technical coaching. Replace Boothroyd with Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney, whoever – don’t kid yourself, the football will be just as poor.
Rob S


Raheem Sterling perplexes me when he plays for England. His decision making process seems to be –

1. Can I shoot from an inappropriate angle/will a defender absolutely block my shot?
2. Can I dive?
3. Can I go on a mazey run, beat five players, lose the ball and fall over?
4. Can I pass to a better placed teammate for a simple tap in? Sorry, that should be can I hold out for the last second just to make sure that 1 isn’t an option before just giving the ball to the defender?

Despite the dive for the penalty he was totally ineffective tonight so the praise puzzles me. Turn a guy inside out all game if you like but if you’ve made no impact on the game you might as well not be there.

Also, I’ve invented a new game for the papers. I call it “Spot the Kane” where you take a snapshot of the game and people guess which position Harry Kane is playing in. It could be defensive midfield, it could be left midfield but you can be guaranteed it’s not going to be centre forward.

The most egregious thing about tonight is that in an empty stadium we somehow still had to listen to the England band ironically play “I’m H.A.P.P.Y.”, tormenting our minds with the cackling wail of an eldritch horror that’s not there. I know it’s not, I’m sure it’s not, I’m H.A.P.P.Y.
SC, Belfast


Normalcy returns
England might have squeezed through but it was still a win using the better formation going forward. It takes time to get to learn how to play with each other when changing formation and with players who do not regularly play together. But it did point the way forward – silly mistakes notwithstanding- England play better when on the front foot. I am hoping Southgate continues to play a fluid 4-3-3. Room for improvement? Certainly. But positive sings? Absolutely.

At the same time, the FA needs to do what is always a hard job and remove Boothroyd. And the harder job of admitting their mistake in renewing his contract. Freeing Boothroyd from his ‘impossible’ job. So impossible that if he had played this team in this style, they would have got past the relatively easier opponents in the prior two games. As it is, they were close. But that shouldn’t save him. England and the players deserve a manager who thinks in terms of the possible. The academies are continuously churning out young talent to replace the ones moving to the senior squad.

Nice to see Wales and Scotland stay in the game. At least it prolongs the hope, unlike for the two Irish teams. Germany losing is a blip. No one will worry that they won’t make the finals in the end. Perhaps Kenny will make it lucky 13, as not likely they’ll beat Portugal next. But he has 6 months to worry about that. Ah, the tough, highly paid and impossible life of the international manager.

Of course getting ‘there’ may be at risk if you listen to the talk of boycotts. Really though, a bit late given we are not far off now. It would be a marvellous sacrifice for a team who qualified for the finals to boycott them. Especially if they are not a frequent finalist. However, apart from plaudits it won’t impact the competition. It’s the epicentre of everything FIFA stands for. They rely on the funds and have shown they are willing to sell their soul and everything else for the World Cup. The pork barrelling goes too deep and too Broad now for FIFA to step back. The pork barrellees would cry foul so loud and couched in such fine, albeit hypocritical rhetoric.

It would take many countries boycotting the finals – countries who would be big draws for the broadcasters and sponsors. Losing big markets for the sponsors would be the only silver stake. And that could only really happen by the boycotting countries organizing a competing tournament. A high end homeless World Cup – handing out the Louis Vuitton trophy instead of the Jules Rimet. Sure it would put the cat among the pigeons. Threats of being banned from FIFA and the continental equivalents. If there were several of the top UEFA countries, UEFA would be in a pickle knowing the club sides would quickly jump on their own club tournament sucking UEFA’s coffers dry and we all know it’s all and only about the money. Eh, Johnny.

Either way, thank god that lots over and we can get back to whining, complaining, gnashing of teeth and the odd shout out over the regular football to which we are far more emotionally attached.
Paul McDevitt

Denmark players wear shirts in protest of the Qatar World Cup

Something nice about a club I don’t like

International break, sh*t coronavirus season, etc so I am going to change up and write something nice about a club that I don’t like. I invite you to do the same.

My choice is Chelsea from when Zola left and the Abramovich era began. Let me count the ways I detest thee. Instead here is some nice things:

I am really for billionaires spending their money to pay billionaire club owners millions for millionaire footballers to play football for them rather than hoovering it up from fans. I think that this is a fantastic model and I am totally for it. I don’t care that someone who shouldn’t win the league might win the league. Its much better than the model they have taken of hoovering up all the young talent which are then traded as a commodity.

I am really impressed that the fans have got the freehold to the pitch or whatever the details are meaning that they have the say on whether the Bridge will follow the same path as Upton Park or Highbury.

I like that they seem to have realised that the manager isn’t the be all and end all of running a football club. I think that they owed it to Lampard to turn him into a manager and he was used as a fan management tool during the transfer ban. Outside of that, they get a good manager for a few years, and move them on. Costs them a bit but no more than one average player. Clubs should be able to survive a change of manager.

Man United proved under Ferguson that its not defences that win you titles, its money. Chelsea give every football club hope that someone will sweep in, drop the cash, and they’ll be a few good moments to come. Without this Chelsea, do we get Aguuuueeeerrrooo!!! Maybe not.

If you want to argue that Chelsea are really the worst team in the world I will agree with you and that’s not the point. Lets look for the positives now the sun’s out(ish).

I couldn’t do this list for Arsenal mind. They really are the worst.
Alex, South London


Lovely shout from Joff, Barton Gooner on “Where Were You?” for the Aguerooooooo moment, I remember it like it was yesterday, I was in the lounge at my Nan’s house, watching Gillette Soccer Special, as my United supporting friend text me to confirm his joy that the title was going to the Red side of Manchester, as the time struck 90 minutes and City were 2-1 down I never expected them to win the game, never, then Dzeko bags the equaliser and then I guess we just have to call it fate.

The reaction of the whole Soccer Special team was truly as iconic as the Martin Tyler commentary.
Mikey, CFC


Wee Jesse
In the last two years I have been really cheered by the sight of some top-class, possibly soon to be world-class, young English players: Grealish, TAA, Saka, Madison, Barnes and Sancho.

It is 10 minutes to go against Poland and England desperately need a goal; who is Lee Dixon screaming for? Jesse F*****g Lingard!

Obviously, fate has made most of those players unavailable for Southgate tonight, but if the vast majority aren’t involved in the Euros this summer we will know our Gareth is the most risk-averse England manager ever.
Dave J  (not to mention Jude, Greenwood, etc, etc)


World Cup pre-qualifying
There’s been a lot of talk about World Cup qualifying over the last week or so in relation to the likes of San Marino, Gibraltar and Andorra being wasted time for the “bigger” nations to play. It’s all been to varying degrees logical, patronising and contentious but here’s why, ultimately, wouldn’t and shouldn’t work

Firstly it’s fair to say that a handful of nations have close to zero chance of ever making a major tournament, at least in their current format. San Marino, Gibraltar, Liechtenstein, Andorra and Faroe Islands have less than 100,000 residents and given the resources, facilities and finances they have available it would take the golden generation of all golden generations for them to pull off the near impossible. With that said Andorra’s U21 side drew with England’s last year, the Faroes have a history of bloodying the noses of bigger fish (beating Greece home and away in 2016 qualifying and taking points off the likes of Austria, Hungary, Sweden and Scotland in the past) and along with Gibraltar they’ve recently been promoted to League C in the Nations League which could see them a tier above the likes of Latvia, Estonia and Cyprus (who currently sit 4th in their World Cup qualifying group, two points behind Croatia and Russia)

You could argue that there’s a lot of other countries who will never qualify, but how unfeasible is it for a minnow to make it to the World Cup or Euros? Luxembourg has a population of over 600,000 people, which is nearly double that of Iceland who’ve been to the last two major tournaments and performed strongly. Iceland notably had a huge push on improving facilities and investing in the game a generation ago and it’s worked wonders, what would stop a Luxembourg doing the same? Well, probably stopping them having a chance to play the big boys is what. And if you did that then we wouldn’t have had them beating Ireland or putting Portugal on edge in the last week.

One solution would be the lowest ranked teams in the Nations League being excluded. Group D currently includes San Marino, Andorra, Malta (who drew with Slovakia and weren’t disgraced against Russia this week, and also have a bigger population than Iceland), Liechtenstein and Latvia. None of those could ever qualify for a major tournament, right? I mean apart from Latvia, who did qualify for Euro 2004 back in the days when only 16 countries did. They even got a point off Germany while they were there.

That Latvia team was a golden generation (as much as any generation that includes Igor Stepanovs can be) and maybe it was a one off, but maybe that doesn’t matter. A generation is probably the most important thing here – Iceland have had a golden one, Latvia did, maybe Luxembourg are at the moment. England had one too and it won as much as any of those countries. But all it takes is a group of players to come through at the same time and magic can happen. What happens if that group come through in a year when Latvia don’t get to play with the big boys? They then have to wait four years, when things might have tailed off or players might have picked up injuries or not kicked on. Maybe they didn’t kick on because they didn’t have the chance to test themselves against the bigger nations (or even the small and medium size nations) and potentially put themselves in the shop window for a move to a stronger league where they can develop. But it’s not fair to take away their chance.

And maybe we could look closer to home? In fairly recent history Wales and Northern Ireland have been amongst the lowest ranked teams in Europe – would anyone support them not being a part of qualifying for any reason other than cross border rivalry? Look at the doldrums Ireland are currently in, or Scotland had been in for close to 25 years – there’s nothing to stop any of these nations falling into the bottom tiers of European football. Would Gary Lineker back them not being involved?

I’ve seen a lot of pointing to the other confederations in relation to pre-qualifying but it’s apples and oranges. The majority of European nations have a professional league, with only a handful being semi-pro, or at very least a reasonable amount of professional player. They have resources and facilities and more than anything football ingrained in their sporting culture. That is not the case elsewhere in the world, and furthermore the logistics and financial implications on both a national and individual level when it comes to travelling across Africa, Asia or the Caribbean, where significant swathes of the footballing community aren’t professional, are significantly different to Europe and European players by and large. It’s also worth a nod here to Comoros, the tiny island nation who’ve qualified for the next African Cup of Nations (to provide some context the likes of DR Congo, South Africa, Togo and Angola, all countries who have previously qualified for the World Cup, haven’t. Nor have 2012 winners Zambia. And Liberia, home of the legendary George Weah, didn’t even make it out of pre-qualifying…)

Ultimately there is one way to make it workable and that is to exclude only a handful of the most tiny minnows from the World Cup main draw (I wouldn’t touch the Euros, especially given that half the continent qualify anyway) based on ranking – your San Marinos, Gibraltars and Andorras. Make it financially worth their while if they don’t qualify. And more than that provide the opportunity for them to develop – whether that’s help and advice or access to the top coaching teams and facilities around Europe or ensuring a certain amount of friendlies against higher ranking nations to test themselves. The thing is, what does it really achieve? It means England, Spain and Germany have to play two less games? It’s hardly a jarring difference, especially as they tend to be a glorified kick about and a chance to boost your statistics and goal difference.

Besides, I’ve seen a lot of talk surrounding those nations being excluded but playing each other for the right to potentially qualify next time – isn’t that pretty much what the Nations League is supposed to provide? A chance for the smaller teams to progress up the ladder and play competitive fixtures against teams at their level on a regular basis. And the Nations League has proven a success so far, for all levels of the footballing ladder, so hopefully it continues doing it’s job and we see smaller teams develop more and as a result more competitive qualifiers across the board.

So my conclusion? Pre-qualifying for qualifying in Europe won’t benefit anyone. The smaller nations get held back and miss out on the financially benefits, as well as the experience. The potential for upsets is diminished. The shop closes, the “bigger” nations and more traditional footballing nations profit and ultimately we get less fairy tale outcomes. So bring on San Marino and Andorra, lets have more of Luxembourgs beating Irelands and Maltas drawing with Slovakias, more Icelands and Albanias and Latvias at major tournaments. It makes it all a lot more interesting
Mike, Burgess Hill

Latvia players celebrate

The Russia fuss
In response to Lee asking where the calls for the boycott for the Russia WC were, I think it is selective memory- I certainly remember a fair bit of discussion and there was even an article on this very website about it by…. Yep, you’ve guessed it.
Mike (thought I’d write in seeing as the mailbox is so sparse)


Loving away goals
Is there one thing you seem to like in football that other mailboxers seem to hate or would happily change? I’ve noticed a few mailers commenting on how they think away goals are unfair or outdated. I’ve always liked them. For one, they give the whole agony and ecstasy in equal measure. That Spurs Ajax semi final and the penalty Rashford scores against PSG in the knock out stages are two from many. Without away goals, both those moments are changed as rather than dramatic “winners”, both matches go into extra time.

Another is tactical strategy. It’s been fascinating to see how how different managers interpret it, whether a Mourinho believing a 0-0 away from home is a good result to Diego Simeone aiming for a 0-0 at home.

And thirdly, I’m ok with extra times favouring one team more than the other. Both teams know the rules before the start and no system is ever going to be 100% fair. One of the best games I’ve seen recently was the Juve Porto match which was one of the best examples of why the away goals system works. The format doesn’t happen in domestic competition here or in World Cups or European Championships so really adds something unique.

So what do you like that you feel the mailbox would give you pelters for?
Alex, London (really hope those new Champs League changes don’t go through)


Ireland and its shamefully neglected league
Recent submissions to the mailbox highlighting Ireland’s demise have been interesting and thought provoking. Posters rightly outlined the unique sporting landscape in Ireland that I feel many in the UK are not aware of. The GAA has a special place in Irish society and is the social fabric of many rural and urban areas; something that football (or soccer as it’s often referred to here) just isn’t. To illustrate this point, there are more GAA clubs in County Cork than there are rugby clubs in the whole of Ireland. In this context you can understand how the GAA owns the 3rd largest stadium in Europe; Croke Park.

Paul McDevitt mentioned that 3.4% of Irish people play gaelic football compared to 8.8% who play soccer. However, when you look at players who play competitively rather than recreationally (5-a-sides etc.) then gaelic games come out on top. Other arguments that children don’t play soccer in the streets as often as they used to doesn’t hold up, this is something that all developed countries have to contend with. However, I feel that while pointing to the GAA and other social issues do provide some context to the demise of the Irish national team it masks the real issue at hand.

The FAI and the Irish sporting public have a disgusting and negligent attitude to the League of Ireland (LOI); our own national league. The LOI is one of the worst leagues in Europe when you look at coefficients and it’s not surprising. Irish football fans would rather watch Man United and Liverpool and fabricate tenuous allegiances to cities in the UK that they’ve never been to rather than support their own league. The FAI for decades relied on England to develop Irish players while using the granny rule to full effect. They paid no attention to the league and I guess as a country it has finally caught up with us.

I want Stephen Kenny to do well, I want Ireland to play expansive football, but we need a bottom up approach starting with the LOI otherwise nothing will change. We should aim to have a league comparable to Scotland, Belgium, Norway ect. Right now we have no definitive right to expect to beat Luxembourg and Qatar.
John, Mayo, Ireland.

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