Mails: On Morata, Lukaku, and the ‘intelligence’ nonsense

Date published: Friday 21st July 2017 9:25 - Matthew Stead

Send your thoughts to theeditor@football365.com for a weekend Mailbox.

 

Artificial intelligence
I felt compelled to write into the mailbox to address the nonsense that I have read about Romelu Lukaku and his apparent lack of footballing intelligence; specifically in comparison to Alvaro Morata. I’ve personally noted two quite prominent journalists, Mina Rzouki & JJ Bull, mentioning the fact that Morata is the more intelligent player for various reasons but there are others who have said similar.

Rzouki was asked about Lukaku vs Morata on Radio 5 Live and her answer was as follows: “If you offered me the choice between Morata and Lukaku, I wouldn’t even think about it. I would pay £20m or £30m more if I had to and I would bring in Morata. That is because I would always prefer an intelligent player in my team. Even if he doesn’t score as many goals, even if he doesn’t do whatever he needs to.”

So let’s get this straight…she would pay £30m MORE for the player that doesn’t score goals and doesn’t do whatever he needs to do just because she perceives him to be intelligent? Even if you forget the implication that Lukaku is not as intelligent as Morata…that requires some explaining. It makes no sense to me.

However, my grievance IS with the implication that Lukaku is not an intelligent footballer. She later addresses this on twitter by saying she meant footballing intelligence and highlights Morata’s understanding of the game (how does she know this?) and his movement on the pitch. Let’s forget the fact that Lukaku speaks 5 languages, studies PL & CL defenders regularly and has widely been accredited as a highly intelligent person on and off the pitch…Even in the context of “footballing intelligence”, this is nonsense. This is a question of style. Lukaku knows that his strength is leading the line and doesn’t need to drop deep to get involved in the build-up.  He needs to be intelligent enough to time his runs, position himself well against the defender, understand where to run, use his physicality to dominate defenders (need more of this by the way) and he is always learning the game. His interview with Jamie Carragher highlighted the way he thinks about defenders and his own belief that he needs to keep working and keep improving. A stupid player does not think like that.

Rzouki also trumpets Morata’s ability to adapt and play in various leagues and positions. I would suggest that he plays wide because he’s never been deemed good enough or reliable enough to regularly start down the middle. I would also highlight that Lukaku has consistently scored goals in different teams, playing for different managers, in different systems, with different styles of play. He’s scored goals at club and international level. In that regard, the only question left of him is the Champions League. You can’t be an unintelligent footballer and put up the numbers he does (refer to Daniel Storey for the specifics).

JJ Bull does say Lukaku is brilliant but apparently he “only” scores goals. He also brings up the issue of intelligence with Morata apparently superior. I guess Lukaku just stands around waiting for the ball to hit him and go into the net? He includes some very bland but complimentary paragraphs about Lukaku for the appearance of balance but does not elaborate on any specifics. Importantly, he then trumpets Morata as a “great player” who is a “great finisher” (as evidenced by the plethora of goals scored in his career i suppose?) and that he is “great” (needs a thesaurus) in the air and “burns past defenders”. I guess Lukaku is a donkey who has none of those attributes? He summarises that “Morata is the better footballer”. How has he come to that conclusion? If only there was SOME way of measuring the contribution strikers make to the team!

Whilst the merits of the two strikers are rightly being debated, the idea that Lukaku is less intelligent is utter nonsense, as is the idea that Raiola coerced Lukaku into accepting United because it was financially more beneficial for the Italian. Like Lukaku can’t make his own decisions? That narrative wasn’t bandied about whenever Zlatan made his moves under Raiola, for example.

I think it’s absolutely fair to say that you like Morata because he drops deep and links up with play better and that he runs the channels better or he has excellent movement etc However, to then equate that to intelligence (football intelligence or general) is incredibly disrespectful. The notion of football intelligence is vague and not easily measured and, therefore, it leaves judgments open to interpretation. To me this is a question of style preference (which I have no issue with). Ultimately, Morata may well end up scoring more goals but right now Lukaku is the only one of the two that has unquestionably proven their effectiveness in one of the top leagues.

In summary…my gripe is not the comparison between the two. That was always going to be part of the narrative once United apparently trumped Chelsea to Lukaku after pursuing Morata. And that’s fine. Of course you should compare players and their abilities, their effectiveness and their styles but this idea that Lukaku is not an intelligent footballer and doesn’t understand the game is actually very offensive and is rooted in deeper issues within the way the game is reported. I have nothing against Morata and clearly as a United fan I have a vested interest in supporting Lukaku but this is a wider issue that needs addressing and calling out.
Doc Joshi, MUFC (Sorry Alvaro, even though it’s not your fault, it is precisely because of the above narrative that I hope you flop harder than Torres did at Chelsea)

 

All I want for Christmas is Phil Foden
Ok, so I didn’t stay up until 3am to watch the derby and no I didn’t know much about the lad before today. I did however read of Guardiola’s very high praise and very excitedly watched the highlights on YouTube.

Phil Foden. Apparently a City fan, a local lad, a true product of our academy and he leaves Guardiola speechless.

Forget the talk of £50m players arriving left right and centre, overpriced or otherwise. Forget the tiresome links to Messi, Neymar, and other players we probably will never have. This is the first time this summer I have been truly excited. This is what it should be all about, one of our own finally impressing Guardiola enough to genuinely have a shot in the team.

For the last 5 years It has been so demoralising hearing of the next big academy player being promoted to the first team, being used a couple of times, then being loaned out to some feeder club for two years and then being sold on.

Please Pep, I know you secretly are a massive fan of F365’s mailbox and are probably reading this as we speak with your afternoon coffee. Please don’t send him to obscurity in Girona.  I would happily sacrifice the league for the chance to see a local lad become a City hero.
Nic, Lancaster (No pressure Phil…)

 

What do City fans think of Pep?
So lately I have found this trending comment all over the football websites that Mr. Pep does not get any malice from the footballing media because generally he is a nice bloke. Wait a second…since when did being nice become an agenda for not facing any criticism. The last time I checked Arsene Wenger was a very nice guy as well. So was Brendan Rodgers when he was in charge at Liverpool. But that never stopped anyone from pointing out the mistakes and at times laughing their asses off on their demise. Tremendous pressure was and has been put on these managers and any single mistake whether be it on personal level or on the pitch by the players, they are shredded apart piece by piece.

Now lets focus on Mr. Pep. Here is manager who was suppose to come in and revolutionize the whole system at Man City. This guy has done nothing sort of that. In fact he has destroyed the very core of Man City. He had the best striker in the league who at times is completely unplayable. What does he do, he throws him at the side and no one even bats an eye. He had a very sorted keeper in Hart admittedly he had his faults, but wasn’t Mr. Pep brought in to improve the players and the squad. Are you telling me that Mr. Pep cannot develop any player or train him in the right/his way. He has literally bought everyone he had laid his eyes on and will continue to do so and that too for tremendous amount of money. Still there is not a single bit of scrutiny being put on him by any writers. The guy is more of a hitler type manager than what you make of. He discards players like anything and does not give them any chance to prove them wrong. He has not promoted or developed any singly academy or reserve player.

I wonder what Man City fans think of him. I am sure he will buy the league one day if he has not done that already this season and I guess they are pretty content with that. He will leave soon, I can bet you that, sooner than Mourinho my friends. But sine he is a nice guy, let’s not say anything against him shall we?
Vatsyayan Rahul (MUFC) (This season is going to be very interesting)

 

Jack Wilshere, five years on
Just remembered this mail I sent to F365 in June 2012:


Jack Wilshere. Is this one man really going to be the saviour of our national team? There is no doubting that he is a talented footballer and has something a bit special about him, but has he really already proven that he is going to be the English Pirlo, Xavi and Schweinsteiger all rolled into one? It strikes me that he has become a bit of a Chinese whisper, the further we are away from his last appearance, the better he is considered.

We are desperate for some hope but let’s not pin all our hopes on one guy. It is not fair on him or us and there is far more chance that it will end in disappointment than celebration. But also, let’s not get ahead of ourselves; Wilshere needs to play a full season at the highest level before we can say that he has enough ability to be hailed as exceptional.

Five years on, has anything really changed?
Leo

 

Remember the Wilshere Vs Cleverly debates…Those were the days.
Lynton MUFC

 

Thoughts from Southampton
Thanks to Kevin, LFC, for the perfect Friday game!

As a Saints fan I too have heard enough about Morata/Lukaku/Lacazette etc (Kane better, for me Geoff). I’ve also heard enough about the Kyle Walker deal, but Monaco’s subsequent reaction to Man City’s Mendy bid did tickle me.

Instead I thought I’d chip in here to offer my limited insight into our transfer dealings (in and out) this summer.

I’m broadly happy with the squad, assuming that bums stay on seats. Les Reed has continually stated that we might only be adding 1 or 2 names to our squad, which is pretty well-balanced as it stands. Bednarek for 5 million could be a steal, but wouldn’t expect him to have an instant impact in the first team. At that price not so much of a gamble and should provide competition, together with Florin Gardos, who is back in training after a long term knee injury. If I’m being picky I’d like another goal scoring forward to supplement Gabbiadini, Austin and Long.

With that being said, any significant outgoings (VVD, Romeu, Tadic) would need direct replacements. The rumoured departure of Bertrand has gone quiet, but left back is a position where we’re well stocked with young talent. Targett or McQueen have been willing deputies so far and arguably deserving of a shot this season.

The loss of Rodriguez was probably good for all parties concerned, as is Harrison Reed’s loan to Norwich. He hasn’t broken into the team under successive managers and so a season of football looks like it will serve him well.

Eagerly looking forward to the new season. My thirst has been somewhat quenched by the brilliant England Lionesses and return of fantasy football, but this is only a stopgap until August 12th!
Town Planner Tom 

 

Thoughts from Man City
As a Man City fan I thought I would try pen some thoughts on our window and predictions for next season.  I didn’t watch the derby last night, and yet to see highlights but as it was our first pre-season I’m not too worried.

Ederson – No brainer to replace the keeper really.  Bravo was only ever a stop gap, but was terrible.  Admittedly Pep made a big decision, and partly a power play on Hart’s ego, but I still think learning the play from the back style was important to get used to, though it is hard to defend when he just couldn’t make a save.  Do think it’s a bit rich that everyone was panning Hart until Pep moved him on though.

Walker – Obviously compared to the real world, or even the football world of a few years ago it is crazy high money, and admittedly even now does feel like a huge amount but; English, straight into the first team, no other senior players at the club in the position, from Daniel Levy and was in Spurs’ first team for most of the season, so in the end we had to stump up.  Think he will make a big difference, as much as I love Zaba his legs were gone and Sagna was in the same slow boat.

Silva – Caught me by surprise this one but he tore us apart in the Champs league and the little magician needs an heir.  I honestly believe David Silva is the best player to ever wear the City shirt, so I think Bernardo may have the most pressure on his shoulders in terms of importance and expectations from City fans.

I know we have had to spend crazy money, but in a sense, I like it.  Sure, we can still buy pretty much anyone if money is the issue, but for a lot of teams (especially the prem.) the money isn’t the issue.  So, if you want to go to Monacco and raid their team, they get to empty your pockets take the shirt from your back and send you on your way with the player.  I like the current situation between Swansea and Everton about Sigurdsson (nothing especially for or against either team btw) because maybe he isn’t worth £50m in one sense, but Swansea want him more than they want less money than that, so why not.  I think it would be a great signing personally, and if they can use some Barkley money to offset it…  It just seems now that smaller clubs have more power to fight back against the financial giants, and as City fans we can understand both sides of that coin.

I do agree with a lot of fans about the way we chuck money around, but up until now I think the real issue is not how much we buy some players for, but how many complete write-offs we’ve had.  The defensive signings have been terrible, and the fullback situation getting to the breaking point it has was spectacularly short-sighted.  Ed Woodward takes a lot of stick for his previous scattergun transfer policy employed, but I think the City board, Soriano and Begiristain deserve much more of a kicking than they get.  I do think it’s turning around now with Jesus and Sane looking great.  Nolito was a flop but under 10 mil, and hopefully will get some back.  The incomings have a lot of pressure on them, and I do agree a strong title challenge is required and maybe even a win.  If we’re realistically out of the hunt in the final few months Pep will be under immense pressure, though I think it would take maintaining last season’s level or lower for sacking talk.

I know we are going to buy Mendy for over 50 mill, or another fullback for similar, but Kolarov is on the way out so we don’t have a leftback.  Pep should have invested in half the fullbacks he needed last year, and half this year so the attacking emphasis was a bit one eyed and left us bent over a barrel.

However, I know he’s done it with the help of one of the fattest wallets in town, but our team is so much younger and looks so exciting.  Some of the defence last year was more Dick Van Dyke than Virgil, but there were moments where you could start to see how good the team could be.
DBM (Fuming at his brother for planning his birthday on the 1st day of the season) MCFC

 

Scrap the England team
Could we do this? Could we ditch the senior England men’s team all together? Or rather, not the team, just the players – like the alternative England team you ran a few tournaments ago? Think about it – the players we have at the moment aren’t rubbish (mostly), but tend to be for England. It seems like there’s this attitude of doom and gloom that just descends over the senior setup as soon as they link up with each other for international duty. Part of that, surely, must come from playing with the likes of Gerrard and Lampard, who played with Owen and Beckham, who played with Shearer and Adams and so on down the years. It’s just a conveyor belt of humdrum beigeness, broken only by the occasional black pothole of non-qualification, veterans passing on a legacy of 6 out of 10 performances that seeps into the minds and strangles the potential of even the most promising of young players.

It’s been a pretty good summer for England’s youth players so far, and the senior England women’s team did pretty well the other night. I have no idea if that’s going to their peak performance, a sign they’re going to sweep all before them or somewhere in between, but in each case we’ve seen players look comfortable on the ball, play with a dash of imagination and enterprise and not look at all terrified of failure. What a change, what a joy to watch, what would we give to see that even just once from the senior team?

So maybe ditch the veterans. Send the kids to Russia next summer. If you really must have some experience then take Rashford (who’s young enough anyway) and Kane (who seems bullet proof if kept away from corner flags), and maybe see if Jodie Taylor’s got plans as well. Cahill, Henderson, Hart and co have never excelled with England, and surely it must be in the back of their minds whenever they take to the pitch that they’re likely to, well, play like they always do.

It’ll never happen, it’d probably end in horrible failure that would inflict terrible scarring on the next generation of English talent, but given that we can predict England will go out in the second round (+/-1) anyway… where’s the risk?
Michael C

 

The joys of the possible top six
I was having a good day. It’s a Friday, wasn’t much to do at work, mailbox even came early, even the mails were great, until Kyle, that is.

While reading the ‘Next Season’s top six’ mail, Spurs being number one shocked me. “Tottenham has no weaknesses really” he writes. Well, sure Kyle, let’s just forget that they have 1 RWB/RB plus the issue of no depth and don’t get me started on Sissoko.

Arsenal next. Odd.

Man Utd for 3rd. Is this guy serious?

Man City fourth. What the…

Chelsea FIFTH. My previous comments aren’t a dig at the other teams (ok, they kind of are) but for Chelsea after putting together a 93 point-record-wins season, with a few astute additions, under the same manager, to not even make top four? Rubbish.

Everyone seems to write off Chelsea for some odd reason, last season there were ramblings of “Conte doesn’t know the league” “Players aren’t good enough” and we all know how that turned out, this season it’s all about “I don’t know how his team will handle the Champions League.” Bollocks, all the first 11 bar Kante have played in the Champions League and after one season they all of a sudden can’t juggle the league and a Champions League campaign? Good one, Kyle.

Watch Conte win the league and shut you all up.
Emma THFC (hahahaha almost had you there, didn’t I?)

 

This seems premature and pointlessly fun, can I have a go?

1. Man C – Jesus back from the dead injury, Irishman Bernard O’Silva signed, they’ll keep firing those money cannons until their left back slot is filled. This is a squad built to win everything and can see them winning the league in style.

2. Arsenal – the last couple of season have shown how well teams outside of the CL can do, would expect them to wilt late on in the season as a. Arsene suddenly takes a cup or Europa seriously which causes injuries and b. it’s just what we do

3. Man U – More quality players, a-hole of a manager, sure there’ll be some reason that’s definitely not the managers fault why they might fail this year. Blame it on Luke Shaw.

4. Chelsea – CL, post-title hangover, new style for Morata over Costa, can see it taking a while to sort itself out

5. Spurs – Have done amazingly due to settled side, great momentum and relying on a few (outstanding) players. Some thing’s got to give though even as a gooner I hope I’m wrong as there’s lots to like about Spurs atm.

6, Liverpool – same as Spurs just not quite as good.
Spence Gooner

 

Non-top six predictions
Attempting to predict the top 6 is a mugs game. Here, instead, are some other predictions for the upcoming season, which definitely will happen.

Mark Hughes to leave Stoke.  He’ll claim lack of incoming transfers/ambition etc, but in reality he’s just a bit bored.

Rooney will score 3 in his first 4 Everton games, whilst Lukaku suffers a goal drought.  The mailbox will be awash with declarations of Rooney being back, Lukaku not being good enough and Mourinho being to blame for both.  Rooney won’t score again for the rest of the season, and Lukaku will finish with 20 league goals, which will make zero difference to the entrenched opinions everyone formed in August.

Watford will be good.

Newcastle will beat Manchester United with a dubious goal. Mourinho will go on about it for the next 2 years, whilst Benitez will grin like a Cheshire Cat.

At some point during the season, every single English football fan will temporarily forget that Swansea are in the Premier League.

Aston Villa will field the oldest starting XI in history.

Blackburn Rovers will discover that there is nothing League 1 players like more than raising their game for a big club fallen on hard times.

Rondon will win the golden boot.

It is known.
Jeremy Aves

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