Good Mailbox, played. Now keep them coming to firstname.lastname@example.org…
When did footballers become so inflexible?
There are many things I don’t understand about modern football but one of my favourite topics has arisen thanks to recent mails suggesting that Paul Pogba can’t play in any position.
I’m not disputing that his price tag was a bit inflated. United wanted him as a piece in their jigsaw (though it does seem rather like they forgot to put the picture of what they were building on the box) and Juventus were under no pressure to sell so held out for as much as possible. But you don’t become rated as one of the best players in the world without being able to play in a position.
Is the issue not that he can play in any position?
This seems to come up all the time recently and is a particular favourite with pundits. We have seen it with many players over the years, not least Mr Rooney. Play him up front – he’s not an out and out striker. Play him behind the front man – he’s not a support striker. Play him wide – he’s not a winger. I even recall one Marmite-flavoured pundit say Rooney had missed a sitter because he had to come from out wide to get the chance.
I am not a great footballer and, in my late 30s, I don’t think I ever will be. But, and this is an advantage I seem to hold over the likes of Pogba and Rooney, I can play in any position you want me to. If I have to play in defensive midfield I will sit back more and protect the defence. If I am going to play in attacking midfield then I will get forward more and support the strikers. It’s just football. It’s what Pogba has been doing since he was a small child. And he is easily capable of doing it.
It seems that if anyone has a bad run of form (or just one game now, he wasn’t exactly poor last Thursday) then it is because they are not being played in their best position or because they don’t have a position.
When did players get so inflexible? Is it the hype? Is it that we have a school team mentality that as soon as anyone is decent on the ball they are ‘too good’ to play just in central midfield? If someone had told Steven Gerrard to focus on being a defensive midfielder and that he wasn’t ‘too good’ to do so then the England team of the past 15 years might have looked slightly different. But you know what – he could play there as well as anyone, it is just that he was a better attacking midfielder, not that he didn’t have a position. Same as Yaya Toure and now the same as Pogba.
Please can we stop kidding ourselves that players cannot play in a position or do not have a position. I know a guy that has played left back every week for the past 20 years and Paul Pogba would be a hell of lot better than him at it. Stop making excuses for poor form, it is just that. He will do well again and he is perfectly capable of doing well either in holding midfield or attacking midfield.
Chris (will play anywhere, any time without moaning), Manchester
It’s great to see Liverpool kids actually impressing
Traditionally in the League Cup, Wenger can pick 11 pre-pubescents he found hanging round the local youth centre and they’ll look effervescent (who can forget global superstars Fran Merida and Arturo Lupoli?). Usually when Liverpool do it we get all of the nerves and none of the exuberance, so last night was a pleasant surprise.
Kevin Stewart was impeccable; very composed and with a lovely turn on him. He already looks like he’d be comfortable in the PL. If he was 19 you’d back him to break into the first team at some point, but he’s 23 so maybe not. A useful option to have, though.
Alexander-Arnold looked good – quick, strong, one very rash tackle for the booking but he showed restraint from then on and didn’t let N’Koudou have a sniff. He’s a good understudy to Clyne and looks a decent bet for a future first teamer.
Ejaria drifted through the first half looking a bit timid, but then strangely seemed to find his mojo for the last quarter of the game and was involved in everything. Grujic likewise was peripheral but with flashes of inspiration. Jury’s out, but both deserve another start in the next round. And finally Divock Origi, who it’s easy to forget is still only 21 as it seems like he’s been around for a while. Powerful, fast and capable of a trick or two. All too often he dribbles into blind alleys, but if he can learn to get his head up before taking an extra 2 touches every time he’ll be a star.
Spurs for their part saw decent showings from Winks and Carter-Vickers too, though Carroll and Onomah struggled. All in all it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a good number of these players going on to have solid premier league careers. We’ve come a long way from the days of Richie Partridge and Darren Potter.
On football’s problem with gambling
Chris ITFC, Liverpool, I totally agree with you in that the “opportunity” to gamble on televised (and even non-televised) football matches is at its absolute peak in 2016.
I am 26, and have been casually gambling on football matches since I was 17 (apparently looked old enough to venture into my local bookies’ at this stage in my life). Obviously back then there were still huge opportunities to gamble on football games, but I genuinely feel like it’s much worse now than it was then.
There are so many things that the bookmakers can do to entice people into using their websites, apps etc. Chris touched on a popular one now, the “cash out” option. This is one that I have successfully used myself, but even this feature has its positives for the gambling companies. For every person like me who cashes out a 6 fold accumulator while it’s up, for it to then “lose” later on, there is another person who cashes out early, and their bet goes on to win anyway. This results in the bookmakers paying out less than they should have, and technically still taking a win.
My issue with gambling, mainly, is that it has become something of a cultural acceptance among my social circle. I have a group chat with about 12 of my friends, and there are bets being screenshotted and sent to the chat literally every day. Monday night football. Tuesday – Thursday European action. Friday night Football. Saturday & Sunday weekend football. Repeat. Thankfully, nobody in my circle of friends stakes obscene amounts on football (that I am aware of) but I am sure there are people out there loosing hundreds, if not thousands of pounds a week, to something which has become part of modern day sport.
There is someone I know, sort of a friend of a friend, who regularly sends screenshots to his group chat of things like “£2000 on over 2.5 goals at 6/4” and the group chat laughs and calls him mad. Now I’m sure he can afford to do that, but I don’t exactly know if that is the point.
Why is nobody genuinely considered about his habit? Make no mistake, this kind of thing can become as crippling and damaging as an alcohol or drug addiction, but is treated with such nonchalance that people have stopped questioning it!
As I said previously, and as Chris has said too, I like a flutter on the football, but I am genuinely annoyed at losing £10 to a bet, never mind 4 figure sums!! The issue I see is, there is no end to it either. The bookies don’t seem to be being taken to task on what they are doing, because they are not committing a crime and not directly telling anyone to use them, but there are lives being ruined by football becoming an everyday sport. More needs to be said, and written about, to highlight the risks involved.
…I too enjoy a flutter, but I seem to be very good about how much I spend and when to give up. On occasion I too have “chased” the money after a losing bet but not often. Recently, I realised I wasn’t addicted to it because I witnessed someone who was.
Whilst I agree that the amount of footy we’re exposed to no doubt has played a huge role on how people gamble, I would argue that simply the sheer volume of information we have at our finger tips means that gambling is all too easy, regardless of the time of day.
For example, if I log on to my app right now, I can see Serbia U17 are playing Macedonia. When I click on it, there are over 40 in-play markets and it’s 11.20am on a Wednesday. That, to me, is not right. I have an app which also includes these games and both team’s previous fixtures. What’s their form like? Do they score or concede lots? Is it worth a fiver on another goal in the second half? Serbia U17 love to score late.
That, to me, is crazy. And I work with a guy constantly checking these scores, looking for “value”. He must have put on £1000 bets on this month. Not withdrawing that money from his bank account, but building it up and then putting say a £100 bet on off of money he’s won. He’s had a mixed month, but most mornings consist of a tale about what he’s won or lost.
Without the constant access to the information, this kind of thing just does not happen. Personally, I don’t think it’s just the TV coverage that can be blamed.
Joe, AFC, East Sussex
…The mail from ‘Chris ITFC, Liverpool’ regarding gambling was a good read, however it painfully reminded me why I no longer do 2 things:
1) gamble with emotion
2) get involved in the ‘in play’
A couple of seasons ago on a Thursday night I was channel hopping and stumbled across a Europa Cup game featuring Wolfsburg. I wasn’t really paying much attention to the match as I was studying the horses for the following day, but I did pick up the commentator slating a Wolfsburg striker by the name of Bas Dost.
After a few minutes of abuse I decided enough was enough, and the only way I could get back at the commentator was to place a £20 next goalscorer on the Dutchman. Depositing my war chest (2 seconds to deposit, 5 days to withdraw by the way) I found the market, the man and placed the bet.
Approximately 45 seconds later, the ball went out of play for a throw in and the 4th official (Europa League has those fake refs behind the goal so he may not have been the 4th) strides to the byline with his enormous electronic board and proudly holds the strikers number aloft. That my fellow mailboxers is £20 waxed in 45 seconds, all because someone I’ve never met called another person I’ve never met useless.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lost more than this in my gaming exploits, but this one just sticks.
Adam NUFC (Mitrosonfire)
A long (and good) assessment of Tottenham
I have had the chance to watch the last two Spurs matches (Bournemouth in the League and Liverpool in the Rumbelows) and so now feel qualified to offer my two-pence worth on them.
The way I see Spurs is that they have a lot of very, very good players. Genuinely strong players, in a number of positions all over the park. However, they appear to lack any brilliant ones, with the possible exception of Hugo Lloris. Arsene Wenger has been criticised in the past for his love of small, creative midfielders but Mauricio Pochettino appears to be just as addicted to strong, athletic ones. Packing a squad with Wanyama, Dier, Dembele, Sissoko and Alli while asking Lamela to track back seems an over-reliance on physicality at the expense of creativity. This has also led to an unbalanced squad which has real strength in midfield but lacks any cover in the forwards. With Kane out currently they are relying on a massively misfiring (although undoubtedly hard working) Janssen or the lovely (but ultimately not-quite-up-to-it) Son.
Going forward in general is a decent set up. Dele Alli is a massive talent but concerns persist over his temperament. He seems unable to let any goading go whatsoever. Christian Eriksen is a beautiful player to watch but there is a reason Spurs were able to pay him £30,000 for years and then secure him on a long term deal for £70,000 a week in the age of players being paid £250,000 to £300,000. I have always liked Lamela and think he has come close to justifying the transfer fee (especially by current standards) but even Spurs fans have expressed their frustration with him in the past. And there in you have the issue. A number of very good players, really good players, but no-one who you feel could blow teams away. When you look at the Spurs line up there is no-one who will really scare the opposition, no-one you are secretly hoping is out.
The defence is awesome. They have assembled a fantastic defensive unit but also play to protect them by pressing all over the park and have the aforementioned strong defensive-minded midfielders. Individually the defenders at Spurs are superb. Vertonghen has been one of the best centre backs in the Premier League for a number of years and how no-one else stepped in on Alderweireld I will never know. Dier can step back into defence if required and Wimmer is decent. At full back I have never liked Kyle Walker but that doesn’t stop me recognising he is a terrific right back and Danny Rose is the epitome of a solid left back with attacking intent and a cracking shot. Ben Davies and Kieran Tripper would be first choices at most other clubs.
The lack of creativity is starting to show. Spurs haven’t scored from open play in their last three matches and have just two goals (a last minute equaliser against West Brom and a soft pen against Liverpool) in the four matches since beating City. The absence of Kane is certainly a factor as he is a £40-50m player but this level of reliance on one player is troubling. City lost Aguero to suspension and in came Iheanacho. Utd could replace Ibrahimovic with Rashford or Martial (or Rooney), Liverpool can call on Sturridge or Origi (or Ings), Chelsea have Batshuayi waiting in the wings. On the subject of creativity Bentaleb and Chadli both left Spurs this summer.
Finally, my observations on what appears to be Spurs’ over-riding tactical innovation which is their organised ‘foul press’. This is the tactic whereby anyone who breaks through the first line of defence, the forwards, is fouled. Not sometimes, not occasionally, but every time. This is seldom vicious and rarely threatens to hurt the opposing player. It is usually via a pull back. This was especially apparent in the Bournemouth match but also there in the Liverpool one, implying that it is organised and planned as the youth and reserves are up to speed with it. Spurs players are very ‘handy’. Once you notice it, it is difficult to miss. Every time someone goes past a Spurs player either in their own half or up to ten yards into the Spurs half a player in white will pull them back. The ref gives a foul, Spurs get behind the ball and the play is broken up. The fouls are spread out so bookings are rare. It is starting to leak into their play in possession now though as Spurs players will also protect themselves when they have the ball by putting their hand in the chest of the opponent. As we have seen, the chest is sometimes missed though and the hand (or elbow) goes in the face.
So, in summary. Superb players, a valuable and enviable squad. Depth, but not in all positions. I can’t shake the feeling though that they just don’t have the little extra needed to step up to the next level. They have been solid in the top five or six for a number of years and jumped to third after Chelsea, City and Utd all had off-seasons. Chuck Liverpool in the mix and they are fighting hard for fifth or sixth again. They just don’t have the magic player to get you on your feet. The problem for Spurs is when they have had this player in the past (Bale/ Modric/ Berbatov) they haven’t been able to hang on to them.
On Lucas Perez
Peter G, I’m a fan of your mails but Lucas Perez looking like a flop? The poor chap has played 277 minutes for Arsenal (based on 2 seconds research) and scored 2, assisted 2. Being involved in 4 goals in 6 games where you only started 1 is a pretty decent start to a career at a new club if you ask me.
(MC – Surely it’s more that he’s hardly getting a game?)
Palindromic footballers: A question
Last night, my friends and I were discussing the fact that if Mathieu Flamini had signed for Marseille instead of Crystal Palace last month, he would have had a palindromic career (Marseille-Arsenal-Milan-Arsenal-Marseille).
This got us wondering – has any player ever done this with more than just two clubs (Club A-Club B-Club A)?
Gwilym Lawrence (Sheffield)
The 10% are morons
So I’ve just listened to this report on the radio that 1/10 fans surveyed would stop supporting a player if the player was gay.
I assume this is out of fear that if said player found out they did support them, they’d be worried the player would think they fancy them…
1/10 people are morons.
Chris MUFC Barnet
(MC – We’d go with c*nts, actually)