Mails: Can’t win the league, can still enjoy it

Date published: Tuesday 17th July 2018 8:42

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Forget about ‘this group’ of England players
As the World Cup quickly fades and attention turns to club football I just wanted to squeeze in my own opinion about why England had a successful tournament and how this illustrates how the PFM mentality hasn’t changed.

In my view, Southgate created a better side by doing the following – creating a system of play that suited the players, selected players in form and didn’t select players on reputation (obviously the off-field stuff was also helpful as well). Over the last week I have read and heard a number of football pundits and journalists talking about future international tournaments and saying things like ‘this group of players will only get better’ and ‘this group of players can lead us into several more tournaments’ etc.

This that type of thinking has been precisely the problem in the past. The current group of players are the best (in Southgate’s opinion) that we have right now and he assembled and coached them to try and maximise their performance. I would like to think this mentality will prevail and that all future England squads for international games are picked and coached on the same basis. Any player appearing at Euro 2020 and WC 2022 should only be there because they are one of the best players at that time, in form and they fit into whatever system works best for the team.

We must end the nonsense of picking squads and treating them like school years – i.e. they will stay together for years until eventually be replaced by a “new generation”. We don’t need a new generation; we just need to keep picking the best available players to make the best team. The idea that you have to accumulate a set amount of international experience before you can perform well as an international team has been shown up as nonsense by the WC 2018 squad which undermines the PFM argument further.
Steve, Manchester


How can you argue that this is a closed shop?
What’s remarkable to me is that we are only 2 seasons away from Leicester winning the title and Southampton finishing 6th and people are already jumping to the conclusion that the top 6 places are sealed. That same season Chelsea finished 10th after winning the title the year prior, and the year after winning the title Leicester finished 12th. Nothing is set in stone. Croatia just made the World Cup Final. Germany went out in the first round.

Fans outside of Man City, Man United, Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea have every right to think that their teams can finish in the top 6, and so can the players of those teams. I don’t think Leicester city started the year thinking they could win it all, but they certainly didn’t reach a point in the season and go “you know what. We don’t belong here. Why don’t we just accept our inferiority and give the title to a team someone expects to win?”

Accepting the status quo is the first step to the status quo being maintained. It’s not being a silly dreamer or a simpleton to recognise this. Probability dictates that unusual/low chance events can and will occur.
Nathan, Newark (hoping Bournemouth and Huddersfield both finish in the top 6 so some sense can be restored)


Can’t win the PL, but can still enjoy it
Re: Johnny N and the 6 team EPL. I think he has underestimated the hopes and expectations of many EPL clubs and is in danger of being extremely condescending. As a WHU fan I have had my fair share of disappointments and relegations, even when not expecting them at the outset of a season. However, there is still hope for something better every year, and not just avoiding relegation. Whilst a relegation battle will inevitably take over the souls of 5 or so clubs by say Christmas time, at the start of the season only maybe 1 or 2 (most likely from the recently promoted sides) look solely at avoiding relegation as being “success”.

In terms of not being able to expect better than 7th, I don’t think that is true either. Leicester are the obvious and most extreme recent example that gives hope to us all, but even West Ham still had a realistic chance at 4th with 3 games to go 2 years ago, and finished above Liverpool.

Remember that even last place in the EPL gets 100m. So the money is there for everyone. It’s just that not everyone is spending it. Whilst I don’t condone violent behaviour, I do think that the protests at our home game against Burnley last season were the catalyst for our recruitment of Manuel P (my god, imagine if we still had Moyes, shudder…) and the subsequent high profile summer spree.

For the likes of WHU, Newcastle, Everton, Leicester, Southampton, Watford, Wolves, Palace, Saints et al, we all hope that our owners spend all the EPL money (wisely) and give us a chance to break into the top 6 or even the top 4. I for one am salivating at the prospect of the new season, and I support a team that is regularly (often unduly) ridiculed in these pages as being a joke club. So surely there must be hope for everyone.

Does every team have ambitions to win the Premier League this season? Of course not. But we all have hopes and ambitions and I’m sure I speak for many supporters of the clubs who Jonny Nic seems to think have a pointless football existence in the EPL wilderness that we can’t effing wait for the new season to start and are very much looking forward to giving the bigger boys some black eyes along the way and maybe even breaking into new territory.

JN is not the only Championship club supporter I know who likes to pretend that actually they prefer it to the EPL because it is more exciting and so they are glad they are where they are (I’m looking at you Villains). I’m fine with you using whatever positive narrative makes you feel better about where you are, but in the process please mind that you don’t denigrate the EPL ‘also-rans’. We’re very much alive and kicking and for one thing are delighted not to be where you are, thanks very much!
Mike “No thanks Payet, you’re fine where you are, cheers” J


Changing VAR
As an armchair football fan but weekend rugby player, it has baffled me why it has taken FIFA so long to sort out VAR and various other annoying aspects of the game – why they thought “trialling” VAR during a world cup was beyond me.

During the group stages when VAR was mentioned in every other sentence, a few mates and I came up with our solutions based on our rugby experiences.

1. Every goal given is reviewed – to adjudge for any offences in the build up (offside, handball etc). This means that attacking play is encouraged and offsides (rightly or wrongly) aren’t given every two seconds. It will also stop the annoying habit of players asking for a review.

2. Every penalty/red card given by the ref is also reviewed (by the ref) – again stopping the moaning players, and it must be obvious reason for the referee overturning his decision. This means that it is only the referee who is accountable for the decision.

3. Each team has two reviews – but only to claim for penalties not given by the ref. However, these must be communicated to the referee via the captain (a la cricket). Any waving for VAR/yellow cards by non-captains is punishable with a yellow automatically. This also means that only clear fouls in the box will be given and a review lost if not deemed worthy – this hopefully limits diving. The captains must also make their review known with a “T” within 10 secs to allow play to carry on per normal (ie quick counterattacks) if a review isn’t taken.

4. Referees have microphones – stops players from arguing but also explains the referees decision makings more clearly. Too many refs get away with poor decisions due to lack of accountability.

5. 80min games with a rugby style clock – the referee stops it when ball is out of play for a significant time, free kicks/pens, subs being made and players receiving treatment. Means time wasting should be minimised.

6. Automatic HIA for players clutching their head with a replacement coming on. This should stop the pathetic rolling around for fear of having to go off, but having a replacement come on stops potentially serious injuries being ignored.

I feel the only things these rule changes wouldn’t cover are horror tackles outside the box that are missed by the refs, however, with linesmen not having to keep a stricter eye on offside (only flagging for clearly obvious ones) they should help the ref in picking these challenges up.

Any other thoughts on rule changes for the better?
Adam, Birmingham


Good Mail on the handball laws
One of the stupid things about the Handball Law as currently written is that taken literally it should result in virtually no penalties at all.

Why would anyone “deliberately” (dictionary definition: “consciously and intentionally”) block a cross with their hand? Crosses are almost always speculative attempts to create a decent chance, comparatively few result in clear goal-scoring opportunities. Who in their right mind would risk giving up a penalty to prevent one coming over *on purpose*?

Same with shots from a distance or from any angle or with any significant number of bodies in the way. Why would you deliberately (*consciously!*) use your hand to block a relatively low percentage chance and risk giving away a very high percentage one?

It’s very obviously the case that footballers almost never intentionally handle the ball in the penalty area, even on those occasions where defenders stick their arm above their heads and connect to crosses with their hands, usually regarded as the most stonewall of handball penalties (usually they’ve just messed their body position up whilst going for the header).

Yet football has clearly decided to ignore the letter of the law on this and instead imbue the handball rule with a different spirit. We’ve collectively decided that defenders should be punished not for purposefully handling the ball but because they’ve put their arm in a place where it blocks more of the space that an attacker is trying to shoot or cross the ball into than it might if placed elsewhere.

Not wholly unreasonably, football (collectively) decided that defenders gain an advantage from spreading their arms, even involuntarily, and it should therefore be deemed an offence. That’s the reality of the law as it is currently used.

That being the case, Rakitic’s handball is consistent with most of the other ones given in the tournament (his arm is out, in the flight of the corner, it’s not even clear if Matuidi significantly diverts the ball), even though it’s obviously absurd to suggest he would deliberately try to stop the cross with his hand.

The problem is the handball law, which either needs to be consistently used as specified in the rule book (meaning fewer of these very soft penalties) or rewritten to reflect how it’s actually used in modern football.
Jack “None of them are handballs” Saunders


Wot, no Demarai Gray?
Big season ahead for the lad-with Mahrez gone should get some more game time – has to be a shout for your World Cup ladder?
Andrew, Banbury


Thank you to Football365. Yay.
I wanted to drop you a line simply to say thank you to the whole team for the outstanding content produced throughout the 2018 World Cup. Reading “Rating the Players” and “16 Conclusions” after each England game felt as much a part of the occasion as watching the game itself.

I must give individual mentions to Sarah Winterburn, for her brilliant concision; Daniel Storey, for his always accurate analysis; and John Nicholson, for his wonderfully observed pieces on the TV and radio coverage which, just like his Love Letter and Footy On TV collections, have the rare quality of allowing me to drift off completely from the outside world and become completely absorbed by the colour of the writing.

Thank you all.
James Hammond (Ps. My girlfriend saw me typing this message and said “that is the most embarrassing email anyone has ever sent anyone”. Oh well.)

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