There’s no football to watch so you might as well send your mails to firstname.lastname@example.org
Three is no longer the magic number
With Conte moving on from Chelsea – and Wenger to a lesser extent – is it now time to declare that playing three at the back has had its time?
Both World Cup finalists, both Champions League finalists, both Europa League finalists, and the league winners in all the major European leagues play with four at the back.
Southgate rigidly stuck by his favoured formation when England would surely have benefited from having an extra man in midfield to help quell the increased influence of Modric in the semi-final.
Given that the nucleus of this team will be playing for England for some time to come, but yet none are likely to play in a similar system for their club sides, I really hope that Southgate doesn’t put another bag over his head after an international tournament and sticks blindly with this current formation (see Pizza Hut advert, 1996).
We played this way to negate our side’s evident weaknesses – it’s now time to be brave Gareth, to adapt, and to play to our player’s strengths.
Harry (LFC), Shrewsbury
Eventually there will come a point when the CR7 media circus moves on to his successor at Real. I’m pretty confident it will be Neymar. Maybe I’m turning into one of those crazed internet conspiracy theorists, but have a little think on this …
Barca would never sell Neymar to Real Madrid.
PSG paying £200m for Neymar was mental, and causes issues with Financial Fair play rules for PSG. (If FIFA ever bothered about enforcing the rules).
In the same window as the Neymar transfer, PSG also sign Mbappe on a 12month loan with an agreed fee of £166M fee the following season. Which is simply a bloody weird way to conduct a transfer.
12months after spending 2x the world transfer record (at the time) on Neymar, it looks increasingly likely they are going to sell him. Which feels a little odd doesn’t it? Unless of course …
It this was Reals plan to sign Neymar all along. (Neymar clearly wants the move). So Real get in cohorts with PSG who offer a ludicrous fee to Barca knowing they’d have to accept. Madrid agree to buy Neymar from PSG the following season (probably with a little add on) when CR7 moves on … and in the process agree to let their 2nd choice to replace Ronaldo (Mbappe), can go to PSG unchallenged. Of course even PSG can’t afford both the Neymar and Mbappe transfer fees without raising eyebrows (even with FIFA) … oh unless of course they loaned one of them for year before coughing up the £166M. Obviously to do that they’d have to be confident they had a lorry load of cash coming in the following season from somewhere!
I don’t even know if the above is breaking any rules, but it stinks, even more so when you consider the people behind the transfers (the agents) are the ones orchestrating them and raking the cash in.
David Moore (Will I have to wait till August to find out if I’m mad or a genius?)
World Cup what ifs…
My top 3 “what if’s” from the WC.
1. What if Cavani hadn’t hobbled off against Portugal in the crossover game? I would have given a full strength Uruguay a better than even money chance of getting past France. Then, who knows? Cavani and Suarez in full flight were the pick of the forwards. Though Suarez did look to be carrying a bit of excess poundage.
2. What if that Ronaldo stunner had missed its mark and Spain had made their pressure count in the opening group game? A Spain presence in the knockout rounds could have changed everything, some of their moves in that game were delicious. Their shoulders dropped after that.
3. What if Jedinak had scored yet another penalty in the final group game Aus vs Peru? It wouldn’t have changed a damn thing in the WC but I would have won 500 bucks because it was still paying a juicy 4-1.
Aussie Red (I sincerely hope that a lousy silver medal will still earn Luka some favour with the courts back home as he faces the music for perjury. Lovren – not so much)
Is TV money the problem?
Interesting article by John Nicholson this morning. I agree with the idea that in part the mystery of a new season for fans of the top 5 clubs (he mistakenly included Arsenal) is limited to “are we going to challenge for the title or 4th place?”
So it does take away some of the mystery, but only the ‘we might also get relegated’ element. Before a ball is kicked you still wonder if this might be a glorious season ahead. There’s still a sense of wonder as a new season approaches and fans of all clubs should be excited for a new season in which anything could happen.
I would say as well that whilst you are right to point out the financial imbalance between the top 5 (plus Arsenal) and the rest of the league, that’s only half of it. Leicester scraped survival one season then won the league the next. More teams need to believe in themselves and be ready to challenge the established order. Too often teams play to avoid defeat and get credit for it. You hear commentators and pundits saying things like “well the truth is the manager isn’t expecting to get any points against the top teams the players know the games that matter are agaist teams near them on the table.” Why not? It’s a game over the course of 90 minutes. Anything could happen and no team is unbeatable, or unplayable.
I find that aspect more troubling. If you take out the top 6 teams from last season and take out the 3 newly promoted teams, you’re left with 11 teams who are happy as long as it’s not relegation (maybe being harsh on Burnley there, they were happy to get the EL and so they bloody should be).
So my point is around ambition, what do the club owners want their team to do? I really hoped after Leicester won the league that more owners would take the approach of if Leicester can, so can we but it hasn’t happened. I wonder if that’s a problem with the TV money. Everybody says how great it is, clubs can buy who they want etc etc. But if your club is going to get £110m for finishing 10th or £120m for finishing 6th and the difference might be spending £30m on two players, what’s the incentive if you bought the club as an investment?
And don’t get me started on clubs who aim to go out of the cups at the first hurdle to focus on finishing mid table *points at Mark Hughes*.
…So John Nicholson says “Those six now form their own mini-league within a league and as such feel rather out of synch with the rest of football. How long will they and us tolerate this?”
Spain – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid
France – PSG, Monacco
Scotland – Celtic
Italy – Juventus, Roma, Napoli
Portugal – Porto, Benfica, Sporting
They are 5 leagues off the top of my head where they pretty much have had a mini league at the top for quite some time now (apart from Scotland which just keeps Rodgers happy thinking he is useful whilst providing him with no competition)
I’m sure there are any more if people can think of them?
…Normally I love all JN writes. However, his anti-top six piece this morning is, unfortunately, wrong.
He mentions Leicester but seems to ignore the obvious bigger question they proved: it can be done. Others Can win the league. The Big Six reaction off outspending everyone is nothing new. Perhaps the resignation to ‘Seventh or lower’ is a fault in other teams’ ambitions – or lack of?
And to claim “Remember, no fan of any side in any other league feels quite like that right now. This is a Premier League-only thing”.
Really? Do teams in Spain start every season confident they can upset the Barca, Madrid hegemony? And in France, there’s no weariness around PSG? Answer Monaco, and I’ll raise you a Leicester (see above). Juventus have won the last seven in a row, even seeing off a record points tally last year. Bayern tend to wrap everything up by April.
You get the point: everywhere is the same. It’s up to other teams to do something about it.
Take from me, a Chelsea fan. I get every bit as much enjoyment out of the season as any Boro fan, despite the lack of threat of relegation. It’s all simply a matter of scale. Don’t tarnish the top six with the rest of the league’s Loser outlooks, please.
Mark H (CFC, watch us go this year)
…I get where John Nicholson is coming from in his screed against the ‘Big 6’. But maybe that is s result of rather short-term memory. It’s not really that long ago that it wasn’t a big 6, it was a big 4 or a big 3. Liverpool where in, then out, then in again. Man City are relative newcomers to the group, with Spurs the late entrants. Arsenal have increasingly looked like dropping out. Leicester’s win was only 2 years ago, long past the date beyond which many naysayers had claimed that the top of the table was locked in for all time by the big (number of choice).
One of the beautiful things about football are it’s ebbs and flows. The current big 6 dominance is a reaction to Leicester’s title, but in time this too will have a counter-reaction. Maybe a big 6 isn’t sustainable if they can only share 4 Champions’ league places between them. Maybe Newcastle will finally get their act together under new ownership (stop sniggering at the back). Maybe Abramovich pulls the plug and Chelsea are suddenly floundering. Maybe, maybe, maybe…
What’s certain is that any of today’s realities are likely to be upended in a few years. Russia 2018 should have given us a new perspective on certainties and upsets. I’ve been reading a lot about how France with their young squad (congratulations by the way) are ready to start a new cycle of dominance, forgetting that the same was said about Germany 4 year ago and Spain before that. So just chill, relax, and enjoy the new season about to begin.
…A quick one for on the top 6. Firstly, I havent done the research but I think it’s a long time that any of the historically big clubs (Liverpool, Utd, Arsenal, probably add Chelsea to that too) have faced any real threat of relegation. Similarly since Saint Harry saved Tottenham they’ve been at no risk of relegation and everyone knows how City were essentially turned into a new club by the Sheik’s buyout. I therefore dont think the implied claim that there was a “golden era” (something John’s writing appears to be increasingly referencing) where the big clubs believed they could genuinely be relegated ever really existed to the extent that the chaotic (and very exciting) Championship now has.
Secondly, relegation does exist in the top 6. It’s called the top 4. That’s a 1/3 probability of “relegation”. It’s been downplayed this year because Arsenal have a new manager bounce and there is always the feeling that Chelsea will do their trick of winning the title in alternate years. Even if you take away the jibes from the fans of the other top 6 clubs, the fear you feel over losing your best players the following summer is huge. First you lose CL revenue and that has knock on impacts on sponsorship deals, wages etc. Players also start to look to leave (and fewer top ones want to come). Hazard looks like he could be leaving Chelsea (having rejected previous moves by RM), I think most people would agree Salah would be off if Liverpool missed out on the CL for consecutive seasons, Sanchez ran down his contract at Arsenal when they dropped out and I’m sure there are other examples. The threat of RM, Barca, PSG and Bayern coming in for your top players when their leagues essentially guarantee them CL football means that you spend almost every weekend disappointed. Even if Liverpool win, I then spend the rest of the weekend checking the result of the rest of the top 6 hoping at least one will drop points. The problem is, they rarely do because the league is so unbalanced.
The PL is unbalanced at the moment, and perhaps we are moving to a place where we will naturally have a “European League”, but the PL is still more balanced than the leagues in Spain, Italy, Germany and (to a lesser extent) France as there is genuine competition for CL places and missing out on those places can often mean losing your star players. That sounds like relegation to me.
A wonderful World Cup
A few thoughts on the final, and the WC in general
Having watched the replays that (presumably) the VAR team and ref also saw, I think it was a penalty. As I said to some friends at the time, if that was my team, I would want that to be given. I felt the BBC pundits went a bit OTT. I’m pretty certain if that decision had been made in the semi-final, with England being the beneficiaries, Shearer and Ferdinand would be saying that the decision was correct.
Philosophy time: At what point does a goal change from being a set-piece goal to an open-play goal? Pete G said this morning that no-one has scored an open-play goal in the first half since 1978. But by the time it comes to Perisic, the ball has been headed two or three times, and then played back to him. And, in my view, by the time it comes to him whatever the planned set-piece routine was has not come off, and now the ball is in open-play. But is there an absolute definition?
Overall, a great WC. Some excellent games, some good goals (maybe no truly great ones though…), enough shocks to be entertaining, but not so many that the later rounds felt like a procession (2002 ultimately suffered from this). I think from a European perspective, it definitely also helps when the matches are on at such good times for us to watch. No late nights or early mornings. Just afternoons and evenings full of WC football!
England did very well. I expected them to qualify from the group, but after anything else would’ve been a bonus. So a semi-final was fantastic. We really a lack a true creative player so will probably continue to struggle against the very best teams. But that isn’t something Southgate can be blamed for. He realized this, and tried to set up the team to compensate for this as best as they could. Ultimately, there were a number of fancied teams who did not go as deep into the tournament as England.
England’s Nations League group is now looking very interesting (and tough!). Can Spain find a bit more directness and incisiveness to their play under a new manager? They certainly have the players to do so. And then there is Croatia. Revenge will surely be on the minds of the England players. But it is quite conceivable that England could be relegated to the second division of the Nations League. The only consolation will be that we will be joined by one of France, Germany and The Netherlands!
…What a brilliant world cup. It was certainly a pinnacle of sporting event.
Now, some of the thoughts that I have during the World Cup:
What if Ox was fit for World Cup and had the same form as he had in Liverpool? I am surprised no one even mentioned him. Granted, England has exceeded any expectation in this World Cup but having in-form Oxlade-Chamberlain will probably elevate England higher (in terms of performance, style of play, and possibly in the final?). His gegenpressing would be helpful (especially against Croatia), his nice delivery would be a nice alternative with Trippier, and his speculative shot from distance would crack some goals. I am not saying Dele – Hendo – Lingard had a bad tournament, but Ox would give another dimension and dare I say bridge better midfield to the forward line of Kane-Sterling. He was missed and should improve the midfield of England.
Perisic’s hand-ball was a penalty. When Shearer and Ferdinand seemed to be confused that when you take a long decision means it is wrong. I am sorry, the ref clearly knew that this is world-cup final and he needed to take a long time. In the end he got it right. Again, taking a long time to decide does not mean you got it wrong. Thank God they are not doing law.
France are now shoo-in for exiting the group stage in World Cup 2022.
…I know this probably speaks volumes of my character, and probably not in a good way, but I’m so f**king glad I quit my job for this World Cup.
Jack, 24, London (what do I do now?)
A word on Croatia and them reaching a final. Many people have rightly criticised the Argentinian FA for its corruption and dereliction of duty when it comes to ensuring Argentina’s footballing status. People cite Belgium, France and Germany as a model to follow where a national footballing infrastructure is in place and that allows generations of players to grow up with a collective playing identity. England followed the example with St George’s Park and we are quite rightly on the cusp of being added to that list too.
However, Croatia reached the final despite chaos surrounding their team, stars and FA. There is no Croatian Clairefontaine, Tubize or St George’s Park but there are young players being packed off to Europe at young age with dodgy contracts. In fact, the mentality Dalic created may well have been because of that chaos.
In the reviews that follow for Argentina, USA, the Netherlands etc. no one will say, “we need to create an atmosphere of controversy due to a footballing scandal on the eve of tournament to galvanise the players.” Even Italy, who have inadvertently used this method in the past, will not be keen to do this in the post-Chiellini, Buffon, Barzagli, De Rossi era. For all the praise Southgate et.al won for being well-prepared and having an identity and system there is still an element of chaos and uncertainty at the very pinnacle of the game and the game is all the more better for it.
VAR caused some head scratching moments. Whilst it was certainly a trial there is much improvement required before use every week in England (although apparently grappling, shirt pulling and diving are down in Italy due to VAR). I still think the tennis system of having a set number of VAR appeals – made by the team captain – each half would work best with each successful appeal meaning the number of remaining challenges does not go down. That way there can be no blame with the ref. If they miss something it is up for the players to challenge it. If the players waste challenges on every debatable throw-in then they won’t have any challenges left for the big decisions.
Time wasting and feigning injury. The only real down point of this World Cup was the amount of rolling on the floor. Great goals, many great games but still a lot of irritating play acting. Mbappe might have become the crown prince of footballing gods but Neymar is the only player whose diving skills could rescue 12 Thai boys from a flooded cave. Again I think the way to fix this would be a set number of “injuries” and you need to be subbed for safety reasons. If a player knew they could only roll around on the floor 2/3 times per game they wouldn’t milk every challenge and would get up faster when they did receive a light tackle.
There are still parts of the footballing world that most of us are still surprised by. Players from Iran, Peru, Japan, South Korea who either played in supposedly weak domestic leagues or minor well known ones delivered some really good moments and brilliant games. The Iranian and South Korean keepers were two of the best in the group stage and Peru as a whole were a joy to watch an unlucky not pick up more points. Again, being surprised by such a hyper-saturated market is always a nice feeling.
Outside of football, and, with the added caveat that Russia very much put on a show for the rest of the world, it was nice to see that the propaganda was hyperbole and that not all of Russia is full of throthing at the mouth racists and hooligans. In the same sense not every Russian can be defined by Putin I hope that the rest of the world doesn’t define the UK by May, Farage or Tommy Robinson. One positive change that might come out of Russia is that people seemed to want the government to change public congregation laws so they too can have the chance to gather and watch sporting events and have a drink without it all resulting in violence. When you look at the impact of most WCs on the host nation, that could be huge.
Speaking of host nations, will this be the last good WC for some time given the next WCs will be in Qatar and then spread across North America? The fact this summer has been so incredible makes me filled with regret that the next one will be played in the winter. That coupled with the still unbearable heat will mean the games will be more akin to South Africa 2010 than Russia 2018. Given the 2026 WC will be a Mickey Mouse format padded out with back street boy footballing nations then this could the last hurrah the World Cup as we know it. If it was, this tournament was a fitting send off.
We deserve an explanation
I see there’s still some discussion about the VAR handball. It’s not a penalty for me Jeff, 1 yard away you can’t react. That said, refs have been getting harsher on this this season (particularly remember some ropey calls in LFC’s CL run).
That’s not why I’m writing however. I think VAR is A Good Thing, but it doesn’t have the proper delivery. In the final, ref gets something in his ear, runs to screen, leaves, goes back, runs on and gives a penalty, shakes head and gesticulates to Croatian players. The rest of us are sitting in the stands or at home discuss whether it was given because of a deliberate hand movement towards the ball, distance from last touch, dangerousness of situation.
What we need, and football fans deserve, is a real time explanation of why the decision has been given. This is especially the case for fans in the stadium that do not currently have access to the big screen replays.
Not only would this inform the fans of why a decision had been given, by having to explain it, a ref would have to stick to the letter of the law. I cant prove anything, but i think the ref gave that penalty because there were 4 french players behind Perisic rather than any deliberate movemeng. I also think expressing their reasoning would make that reasoning more clear. It would prevent the “it feels like a pen” decisions. We would also have more evidence to point to inconsistency in decision making by comparing times that a pen was given and the reviews could act as a benchmark for refs to learn off.
I hate to bring up rugby, but yeah, rugby. In league and union the refs say “I am looking for a foot in touch”, “I am looking at obstruction by no. 8” “i am looking for offside” or, more applicably here, “I am looking for a deliberate knock on”. They also repeat specific words from the law book “Is there any reason I cannot award a try?” Is a different burden of proof than “Is the ball grounded?”. They then describe in detail exactly what they are seeing at the time they see it which helps everyone understand the reasoning, even if they don’t agree with it. I don’t think there’s any way that if the ref in the final gives a penalty for the Perisic handball if he reads the language of what constitutes a handball as he makes that decision. That said, if he says Perisic had time to react to the ball, or he thinks there was a deliberate movement towards the ball, that is more easy to accept rather than a head shake and an unexplained decision.
VAR could be a genuine addition to football, but only if it takes on the processes that other sports have helpfully already designed for it.
Not sure why you don’t just publish the FIFA rules on handball. Or at least add a comment from the editor alongside the letters you publish. Lineker even read them out at least twice in the WC. My opinion is that it wasn’t deliberate, and taking into consideration the sub-criteria, it wasn’t a handball, but I wasn’t reffing the game. Seems entirely sensible for the pundits to discuss “ball to hand” and “deliberate” given the actual rules.
From the FIFA “Laws of the Game” which came into force on June 1st 2018. (But you guys aren’t stupid, you know this already)
Handling the ball
Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm. The following must be considered:
• the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
• the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
• the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an offence
…There’s a lot of controversy over the handball penalty. I think it’s helpful, when considering whether or not it should have been given, to look at the potential reverse situation:
If a French player, in the same situation as Perisic, has the ball hit their hand like that and then scores, should the goal be allowed to stand?
If your answer is no, then it’s clearly a penalty, in my opinion. And I think most of us would agree that the answer is no.
Hope this clears things up.
Chris, Gooner, Azerbaijan
…Over the last few years of playing (at 46 “playing” might be an exaggeration) and watching football, the handball rule has changed. It used to have to be deliberate and I think that was right, otherwise it will change the game to something akin to hockey, where rather than shooting at goal attackers look to hit a foot to gain a penalty. We have seen players prefer to dive in the penalty area rather than stay on their feet and attempt a shot more and more in the last decade. It would further ruin the game if we make every handball a free-kick or penalty. Players will rather flick the ball into a hand in the box than attempt a shot. It is conceivable that a game might end up with many, many more penalties, and less and less goals from open play. Not what we all want to see, surely.
The penalty against Croatia was deemed by many as fair. Frankly, I was amazed to read so many opinions in favour as it seems impossible for it to have been deliberate. A quick search of the internet provided reaction times for “soccer” players as 0 7 secs (www.quora.com). There is no way that it took the ball as much as 0.7 seconds to travel from Matuidi to Persisic. For those that doubt this think how little a cricket ball deviates yet fools a top class batsman (22 yards with as little as 0.5 seconds to react). No chance to react and to deliberately handle the ball. Impossible.
So should we change the rule to avoid an advantage of the ball accidentally strikes a hand? For me, this is dangerous ground because trying to guard against luck is like avoiding all germs in the world, futile. What next? Deflected goals not given as they are deemed too lucky? Suarez once scored an FA Cup goal off his arm, given the time to react, completely accidentally, did it seem wrong? Yes. Was it within the rules? Absolutely. But not everything can fit within the beautifully laid out parameters of the rules. But isn’t that the beauty of the game anyway?
Tom Dubai (save the game from eating itself…please)
Football and mental health
One of the best things about this World Cup has been the way so many people have come together to support the England team. Pubs have seen an upsurge in trade that they otherwise wouldn’t have seen until Christmas, for example. I mention this because in one of my other lives I’m involved in campaigns that highlight the benefits of pubs to promote social inclusion and social wellbeing, and to combat loneliness. Pubs are, after all, at the centre of so many communities and the best pubs are the ones where everyone, no matter who they are, finds something they like about it. With this in mind, I was interested to read about Hendon FC, in the Southern League Premier South, launching their own campaign to fight loneliness. Anyone suffering from depression or loneliness can contact the club’s chairman – in confidence – to apply for a free ticket to a Greens’ home game.
When football clubs were first founded they represented their local community, providing wholesome leisure activities and, in some cases, civic pride. While it’s less obvious with elite clubs, this still exists – for every official supplier in the Far East, there are coaching schemes in partnership with local schools; the only thing there isn’t always much of is an easily accessible way for local residents to watch games. While there is obviously less demand for tickets to a Step 3 team than a Premier League club, Hendon deserve praise for this initiative and hopefully other clubs at all levels will follow suit with efforts to create – for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon or a Tuesday evening at least – a more inclusive community.
That was highlighted in the Non-League Paper, who also ran an interview with Matthew Smith of Durham United, about his involvement with the IF U Care Share Foundation. Set up by Matthew’s family after his older brother took his own life aged just 19, IF U Care Share’s main aims are prevention, intervention and support of those bereaved by suicide. They have partnerships with both the Premier League and Leage Football Education; if anyone’s got spare cash it can be donated at www.ifucareshare.co.uk.
More from Planet Sport:
EXCLUSIVE: Andre Agassi reveals what makes Novak Djokovic tick (Tennis365)
The *other* heroes of the World Cup: Vardy, Batshuayi, Berg, Quaresma… (Planet Football)