Mails: Worst individual performance ever?

Date published: Thursday 24th March 2016 3:41

R.I.P. Johann Cruyff – absolute legend, always remember my dad telling the story of going to watch Netherlands versus England and so dominant in possession that at half time Sir Trevor Brooking went up to the ref and asked “can we have a new ball please?”

The ref replied “what’s wrong with that one?”

Brookings reply “The Dutch have that one!”


Bugger. The first game of football I remember seeing on the TV was with my Dad on a Cornish campsite when he took me to the clubhouse for the 1974 World Cup Final. Bugger.

For any mailboxers who haven’t read Brilliant Orange, check out the chapter where the Dutch people see that final as their very own “I remember where I was JFK moment” A whole nation in despair.

Diamond Lights


Just seen the news about Johan Cruyff. F##k.

2016 has had more than its fair share of really sh!t moments hasn’t it.
Ed Quoththeraven


Just read the sad news about the passing of Johan Cruyff. The big game upstairs just added a lot more quality.
Brian LFC


Milner: The multi-tool
I thought your piece on James Milner missed the point of him slightly. He’s not useful like a tin-opener, or a kettle, or even a fish slice. He’s useful like a handy multi-tool, which provides an adequate version of each of them, for use in an emergency.

When England go camping (ie to a tournament) we haven’t got room in our backpack (ie squad) for all the brilliant specialist gadgets (ie players) we enjoy in our luxurious house (ie league). We need to economise, and so we take a decent multi-tool (ie Milner). He can be used to open a tin of peas (ie play centre mid), heat up some soup (ie fill in at left back), or even fashion into a primitive pillow (ie take an important penalty in the shoot-out).

Of course, this does rather beg the question as to why Milner would possibly be included in any other squad than a tournament squad, and that starting him through choice is the equivalent of carving your Sunday Roast with a nailclipper attachment, but I’m sure Roy has been to enough camping trips to know what he’s doing.
Burtie, Spurs


I liked the article about James Milner this morning and found myself nodding along as I read it. One question that did spring to mind was whether the propensity of England managers to pick Milner-like players is part of the reason that England have been so underwhelming at, well, every tournament since Euro ’96.

While there is undoubtedly a place for “utility” players in an international squad, I would suggest that you’re probably not going to be making any waves at tournaments if these guys are relied upon as heavily as England seem to. The temptation, I imagine, is to take these players because they are dependable and adaptable; decent, if not spectacular backup for two or more positions.

Where I feel like we’ve gone wrong in tournaments past is the tendency to use these go-to guys as the first change a little too much. One of your starting players isn’t having the greatest of games and you’re either drawing or losing, so you bring on Milner. He could be asked to play at right-wing, left, centre-midfield, attacking, defensive, right-back…you get the picture. But as a fan, that’s the last thing I want to see – with the best will in the world Milner is not going to change a game, maybe just keep the parity. Personally, I don’t think any England fan would be overly disappointed if we took more risks in team selection and tactics and still ended up being eliminated. Instead of bringing on Milner, stick on an extra attacking player and just bloody go for it.

To me, it feels like the last few competitions we’ve been to have just been so dull and uninspiring, and I think that’s largely due to the fact that we seem to be playing a safety-first game; keep it tight at the back and try and nick one on the break – having players like Milner in the squad only seem to encourage that. While Milner hasn’t really done anything particularly wrong, it’s just that he’s never going to do anything particularly right either.

As a fan, I’d rather see us take some risks and go out in a blaze of glory than play it safe and slowly collapse like a flan in a cupboard (to quote Eddie Izzard). After all, we all know we’re not going to win it but it would be nice to give the other teams a bit of a game before we fly home early. I say, forget players like Milner, Henderson, Rooney, Wilshere and Walcott; we know exactly what we’re going to get from those players and it’s nothing amazing. Let’s show a bit of daring and pick a few (relative) unknowns; is there any reason why Albrighton, Noble, Antonio, Drinkwater or Deeney (and I’m sure a few others I’ve forgotten) shouldn’t be given a chance ahead of the players who have only ever underwhelmed for England? We’re going out anyway, let’s mix it up a bit, eh?
Ted, Manchester


Firstly I’ll say that I am a Spurs fan who is pleasantly surprised with how the season is panning out. The other day a work colleague of mine said that we’d never make it out of the group stages of the CL next season. Twice we’ve spent large chunks of the season in the top four (once with ‘arry and once with AVB) before ending the season in 5th. With this in mind I told him that I’d be happy to qualify for the bleeding thing first!

Anyway having read the James Milner is an unwanted tin opener article this morning I scrolled further down the page to read the comments, and what I saw has filled me with dread. The basic idea seems to be that James Milner and Jordan Henderson are complete toilet and deserve no place in the England squad, and we’d all be better off with Dier, Alli and Barkley in midfield. Not to mention that according to yesterday’s mailbox Harry Kane is much better than Rooney so he should start for England and we may as well leave Rooney in some branch of Nandos in Manchester over the summer too.

I am filled with dread because I see what’s gonna happen over the next 12 months.

Euro 2016 – After lots of public campaigning Milner and Henderson are dropped/subbed for England and replaced by Dier and Alli. Against Wales Gareth Bale dribbles past Dier and smashes the ball into the top corner. England qualify for the next stage of the competition and plod along until we meet our first decent team. We crash out the tournament to Spain or France and whilst doing so Iniesta and Koke dribble, pass and nutmeg their way through Dier and Alli. And up the other end Kane struggles to score against Pique and Ramos.

Next season – So that’s that settled then. Dier and Alli are sh!t and Kane is a joke! They and all the other England players are booed in every away fixture they play next season and reminded that for the amount of money they earn, they should be better then Andres Iniesta and Paul Pogba.

Tottenham 2016/2017 – After being built up as the saviours of English football the players are inevitability knocked down (see Milner and Henderson) and their confidence is shot as performances deteriorate.

Mailbox 2016/2017 – Everyone laughs at deluded Spurs and their deluded fans who should have ‘sat down’ and known their place. BTW Harry Kane is crap and England should build their team around Marcus Rashford.

I can hardly wait!
Stephen, Spurs


Milner should be in the squad but not the starting 11 for England this summer in the group stages.

I watched Liverpool v Utd at Old Trafford last week and I noticed Clyne seemed extremely nervous as the teams lined up on the pitch while the music was played and the camera man glided down the row of players. Clyne then had a nightmare game…he froze. The occasion got to him. I’m sure that night will stand to him in the future.

My point is that Milner will not freeze on the big occasion. Some of the younger members of the squad might freeze or may just have a bad game and need to be replaced.
Given the variety of positions Milner can play I think he is a useful option to have on the bench. No matter the position….Milner can come on and “do a job”

The tin opener may be at the back of the drawer these days but when the ring pull on that can breaks without opening the tin then what do you reach for….the old reliable tin opener.
It’s annoying, it’s a pain in the arse to use but it does the job.

I am also bemused by the fact that Sturridge does not get the mentions in the mailbox regarding England’s starting striker in the summer. Kane & Vardy have had great seasons but Sturridge is England’s best player in my opinion and if he doesn’t start (assuming he’s fit blah blah blah) then England are really missing a trick. Is this just my Liverpool bias or do we all think Kane is a better player than Sturridge?
Gough, LFC, Dublin


James Milner isn’t a tin opener, he’s a Swiss Army knife. Capable of doing numerous jobs, just less effectively than a specialist piece of kit. Saw, cut, snip, open, screw… Full back, centre mid, either wing, false nine, number 10… Milner should go, just make sure he’s wearing the number 23 shirt and fingers crossed you can stick him in a drawer and he won’t be needed unless both pairs of scissors break.
Lewis, Busby Way


More England thoughts
I’ve been reading a bit about the make up of the England side for the Euros in recent days, including the MediaWatch recommended read, and it strikes me that I have never known so much uncertainty surrounding the side and the potential formation before, and I can remember far back as World Cup ’90. This is both a positive (so many form players, potential to try various kinds of tactics to suit conditions and opponents, keeps them all on their toes) and a negative (not long to go to get it right Roy!).

I’ve yet to see a pundit or journalist come up with a credible team that doesn’t make me think ‘that’s a bit unbalanced’ or ‘by crikey we will be annihilated’ or ‘John Flanagan? F**k me.’ And then it struck me, why not just combine the tactical and personnel delights of the top two teams of the season thus far, Leicester and Spurs?

*I’d have a DM combo of Dier and Drinkwater. Drinkwater does his thing and can still go forward and act as creator and provide another attacking option in the oppositions half. Dier plays a more subdued Kante role mopping up anything coming his way. This allows them both to shield a suspect back four, just as is required at Leicester (yes they have been immense but if you put a pacy AM in front of Huth and Morgan then they would be doomed as two tall oak trees being eyed up by a greedy logger and his chain saw).

*Put Alli in front of them and pair him with Kane up front as they do at Spurs so they can do their sexy telepathic thing. I think this is more likely to be successful than having Vardy upfront instead as I don’t think defences will oblige by playing a high defensive line if they come up against him (and I say this as a Leicester fan), but what an option from the bench in the second half if chasing the game against a tiring defence.

*Use Walker and Rose as overlapping full backs. This is the bit I have most issue with (exposing our CBs, not really trusting either of them on the international stage), but it will be exciting nonetheless.

*Welbeck and Sterling to nominally operate on the wings, but both can provide further attacking options and can adapt their position depending on the opposition and provide a few more bodies in the middle.

I’m not saying this is the solution, plus it doesn’t accommodate Rooney or Wilshere who are probable shoe-ins (if fit) but it is an option and would at least be exciting to watch. I’m sure there are plenty of holes to pick with this, and better alternatives if others in the mailbox want to have a go?
Rob (England as the new Leicester anyone?), Leicester


A Saints view of Pochettino
Long time reader – first time mailing in.

Could not help but see the parallels between the current Spurs thinking expressed in this morning’s mailbox with my own thinking on Southampton’s situation with Pochettino a few years back.

When Saints were flying high (by our standards) and Pochettino was first linked with a move to Spurs I was convinced it would never happen because:

1) Spurs finished only 1 place or 1 point (or both I can’t remember) ahead of us in the league. We were on the rise, Spurs seemed to be in their usual chaotic state and didn’t look likely to push on to the top four. Why would Pochettino want to make a move to a club no better than us on the pitch.

2) We had all the infrastructure in place to allow Pochettino to build on his success – a great scouting network, great facilities, what is widely considered to be one of the best youth academies in the country, stable ownership who completely backed Poch and had bought into his ideas.

3) We had exciting young English players coming through, Shaw, Lallana, Clyne, Chambers (yes he used to look good!), Jay Rod etc.who were starting to turn heads in the England set up.

4) Team morale was very high and there was a real sense of team spirit at the club – why would these players want to leave – especially to Liverpool and Spurs teams who did not seem to be going anywhere at the time!

Then Poch leaves, as do most of the players mentioned and Saints have to re build. So all my points and thinking looked rather silly, and with the benefit of hindsite I realize it was wishful thinking. Not saying that Poch will leave Spurs or that their players will jump ship (I hope not too!) – but the situation is almost identical between Saints and Spurs then… and Spurs and United now. All my above points applied to Saints then – and apply to Spurs now.
Nat – Ever optimistic Saints fan


The assister of the assist
As already covered, the piece on enablers was fantastic, and brought to my mind a specific type of enabler for which I have always had great admiration. The assister of the assist.

These are the guys that enable the stars to really do their damage. They move the ball from the half way line to the final third quickly, accurately and with a weight of pass designed to best enable the creative talents to express themselves. Their passes are typically weighted in a fashion that the stars first touch is directly towards the goal allowing them to do their creative damage (English players typically struggle with this, being excellent at drilling a ball 40yards but struggling with the weighted 10 yard pass – just watch Sergio Busquets for 90 mins if you don’t know what I mean). Xabi Alonso and Pirlo in his younger days are great examples of an assister of the assist. Superb at getting the ball reasonably deep and within seconds the ball is at the feet of Ronaldo, Di Maria, Gerrard, Kaka and co in a position where they’ve taken a touch are 30yards from goal and are ready to attack a defender.

It’s no surprise that when you take Modric out of the Real Madrid side they have a far harder time creating and taking chances. That’s not because Modric has bucketloads of assists or goals but because Cristiano, Bale, James and co are not getting the service to do their thing. I recall a later stage Champions League game when Xabi Alonso was suspended for Real Madrid and a peak Cristiano struggled like never before, every time he received the ball he had his back to the defender and was facing the touchline tightly marked, the task of doing damage from there was unsurprisingly difficult.

I won’t hog all the discussion but next up we need to talk about the enabler of the enabler – the guard dogs. Gattuso acting as Pirlo’s minder and Mascherano acting as Alonso’s are both great examples and were massively undervalued parts of very successful teams. Without them the assister of the assist becomes a liability (see 2015/16 Premier League season: Fabregas, Cesc).
Dan Cunnington, Greenwich


I have followed with interest over the last few days the mails on the different types and attributes of managers – which has generally been divided into those with tactical nous and those with man-management skills (or both).

However, given that we are coming up to an international break, I think it may be interesting to look at dividing managers in a different way; International Managers and Club Managers. What makes a good Club Manager and what makes a good International Manager, can you be good at both or are certain managers skillsets apt for one or the other. In order to do this I had a think about what you need to be a good International Manager, and what you don’t need.

What you need

1. An eye for talent/scouting – You don’t get stuck with the players at your club, or get the chance to bring in entirely new ones. You have to search amongst all the existing players of , say, English nationality and choose the best. It is vital you are good at choosing the best, you don’t get to give them all a chance!

2. Be a big game manager, not a flat-track bully – Being an international manager is about winning tournaments against the best teams in the world. You have to perform against the best. It is all well and good beating Andorra 15-0, but if you lose 1-0 to Italy it is for nought.

3. Stability – You are stuck with your players for a lot longer as an International Manager than a Club Manager, the ability to forge long-lasting and stable environments is key.

4. Dignity, respect – Your pool of top (top) players is more limited, throwing boots around and upsetting the apple cart will do you no good; you can’t just sell your star international and bring in another. On a separate point, you are the figurehead of your national team. Every child in the country is looking to the England team and Woy come Summer. It is important to have a figurehead worthy of admiration and being looked up to.

5. Togetherness, unity – You need to breed team spirit from the top and ensure there aren’t any fractions, for much the same reasons as above.

6. Impact – Your time at tournaments and at training is short. You need to be impactful, you need to drill in a game-plan, methodology or tactics quickly. A week before the Cup of Nations tournament to turn Tunisia into a Tiki-Taka team, I don’t think so.

What you don’t need:

1. A good Transfer Record – Irrelevant for obvious reasons.

2. Being a big name/ famous draw – as above, you don’t need to be Pep Guardiola to persuade you to play for your country, presumably you already want to!

3. Long-term consistency of results – Doesn’t really matter, a short term burst of form is all it takes to win a tournament. This isn’t a marathon this is a sprint.

4. Financial/commercial nous – You don’t have any access to the purse-strings, you are a cog in a national associations wheel, not a one-man band.

5. A Vision/Philosophy – Simply no time to implement it. Unless it comes from the players clubs (like Spain/Barcelona for example) you can’t mould players, when they have already been moulded at club level.

I think taking these into account I can see why older managers excel at international level. Making a team gel, even for a short while, and being a respected and stable leader of players, whilst not necessarily instilling in them a new philosophy is key. Give me your Scolaris, Hiddinks and, dare I say it, Hodgsons over your Mourinhos, Guardiolas and Klopps any day.
John Marchant


XI of worst regulars (kind of)
Among all of the recent mailbox tribalism, and on a particularly slow day at work, I found my mind wandering nostalgically back to the years spent at school compiling various themed XI’s. Inspired by my regular frustration at the presence of Mathieu Flamini in Arsenal’s midfield, I forged a team composed of the worst regular-ish players at the top 11 clubs.Here regular-ish is defined at having made at least 10 Premier League appearances this season, and I took one player from each club.

Playing a 4-4-2 diamond the team is as such:

GK: S. Mignolet

RB: B. Ivanovic
CB: E. Mangala
CB: M. Yoshida
LB: A. Ogbonna

CDM: M. Flamini (c)
LCM: C. Adam
RCM: R. Mason
CAM: M. Fellaini

CF: V. Anichebe
CF: L. Ulloa

Can anyone top this pile of dross?


More European Cup thoughts
I’m delighted Graham has filled us all in on his solution to fix the European Cup. That was easy huh? I’m sure those with input into the decision making process will be fine with it, even though such a plan could lead to them losing money, prestige and money.

Now, I like ignoring reality as much as the next talking pencil sharpener, so I’ve been inspired to come up with a similarly simple solution for diving.

We just tell the players to stop it. But this time we explain that we really, really mean it. As a sneaky aside, I’ve also made it possible for humans to fly.

Now that is all sorted, me and Pencil McPencilface are off to the pub.

Andreas (Turkeys and Christmas) Hunter, St Albans


With the review of the Champions League in discussion, I thought I would share my thoughts on what could make the tournament more exciting. Here goes. Have the final 32 teams as it is now, but play in a knockout format, in which league winners of major leagues seeded are 1-8, subdivided by their co-efficient ranking. The remaining 24 are ranked by their co-efficient ranking from 9-32. Seed 1 plays seed 32 etc.

Round of 32 & Round of 16: Each tie is played to a winner, no away goals rule. 1st game at higher ranked teams place, 2nd game at lower ranked teams place and a third deciding game if required (both teams have won a game) game back at higher seeded teams locations, thus favouring national league winners.

Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals : Same format but third games, if required, are played at designated neutral locations (max of 6 neutral locations needed)

Final : 1 game, neutral location.

Would stop the away goal rule making second leg ties redundant (i.e. Man City’s last game), would reward league winners for winning their league and would emphasise the winning of the tie which would lead to more entertainment in each match. May need some tweaks but I feel this would certainly add a bit more edge to the games we see.
Michael, Dublin (Ibrahimovic to be offered 75m a year in China. I reckon I have 1/75th the ability of Zlatan, yours for only 1m a year…)


Graham has made a classic error in his suggestion for a European knockout competition. He is assuming that UEFA care about their tournaments as sporting competitions!

That clearly isn’t the priority any more (if it ever was) and I have to say that personally, I have found the recent round of ‘Big Club’ panicking hilarious and depressing. It’s especially embarrasing for the English clubs as PSG, Bayern, Real, Barca can hide behind the ‘We have no domestic competition!’ excuse with at least a veneer of legitimacy.

The English clubs though? They are struggling to even qualify for the damn thing and when they do, they are being shown up spectacularly. Europe’s biggest clubs can at least present an argument based on something other than the fact they want to play more games that are more interesting to broadcasters abroad.

Seeing United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool (LIVERPOOL!) and Arsenal trying to make the same arguments is cringeworthy in the extreme.

Dan (Why don’t we just award a trophy based on commercial revenue and be done with it?)


To Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London. Almost too obvious to point out but…

UEFA don’t want to make the champions league more exciting. They want – and the format is set up to make – more money for them, their sponsors and the teams already at the top.


Club World Cup revamp
As we all know the World Club Championship is a pointless competition every year where the European Heavyweight (usually) wins. I say scrap it and have a Club World Cup every four years in a Summer where there is no Football (or not much football, I maybe being slightly Eurocentric) .

The rules would be the last four Winners of Copa Libertadores, UEFA Champions League, Asian Champions League would qualify and there would be a playoff between the last four winners the North American equivalent and Africa for the final Four spots (this could change with tournament performance coefficient) to give four groups of four and then the standard Knockout system thereafter. If a Club was to win the respective tournaments more than once it in the last four years the places would go to the highest placed in the regional confidences.

I think this would have very few drawbacks (may reduce importance of the National World Cup). Clubs in other regions outside Europe such as South America maybe help to keep hold of players longer as they have more chance of playing in a Club World Cup by winning it in their respective Continents or if they have won it they know they can stick it out for a few years. Maybe the great Mid-Nineties Ajax team could have stayed together longer.

It would be awfully corporate but most football is these days. I would just like a way for a team to be able to claim world’s best status legitimately.
Luke U (MCFC)


The worst individual performances ever?
As its International week and after watching Demechalis have an absolute ‘mare’ on Sunday afternoon, I thought about other players own personal nightmare performances from recent years. From off the top of my head without doing any research I can think of the following

Jonathan Woodgate’s Real Madrid debut – scores at the wrong end and gets sent off. Brilliant. Probably got injured aswell.

Martin Palermo. Whilst playing for Argentina in the Copa America he missed 3 penalties. In 1 match. Will surely never happen again ever.

Sol Campbell. Got skinned by Bobby Zamora (although I read there were other issues at the time) a couple of times, got subbed at half time and left the Emirates straight away and went home.

Ali Dia. Some mitigating circumstances in that he was not up to the required standard anyway was it was Graeme Souness’ gullibility that put him on the pitch and then got pulled off again soon after when it became clear he was not George Weah’s cousin.

Anyone know of any more disastrous individual performances they’ve seen?
Simon Fitzwilliams (no twitter handle-thing), Cambridge


Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Reading the gossip this morning, I was unsurprised to see that Daniel Sturridge had played 136 games in 10 years. As you rightly pointed out, to pay £50 million for a player constructed from Chupa Chup sticks and spit, wouldn’t make any sense. That got me think about Jack Wilshere. F365 mailboxers will be unsurprised to hear that he has suffered a setback and will likely miss the whole season, followed by the Euros. Not that he should be anywhere near the squad considering the performances of midfielders like Dier and Alli. Looking at the average number of games Jack has played a season, it comes out approximately 12 a year. That is the same number as Diaby. You cannot build a team around a player that physically incapable of protecting himself. Lots of people say it is bad luck. It isn’t, it is a product of how he plays the game, the way he turns, or attempts to shield the ball. The way he kicks the ball too far in front of himself and then lunges in to try and reclaim it. That and probably being overplayed when he was younger and still growing didn’t help. And yet, even though deep down I think he is a busted flush, he did do some phenomenal things, like that game against Barcelona, or the way he finished that move against Norwich. And so you cross your fingers, and hope he’ll come back, secretly knowing he won’t.

I’d like to ask the mailboxers who are the players in their team’s squad who, if they were fit and healthy, your team would be so much better, but you know they never will be and so you’ll let them go?
John (that George Weah piece was nostalgia of the highest quality) Matrix AFC

A wonderful third paragraph
The third paragraph in Mediawatch‘s Stat Man piece today is one of the most cutting things I’ve read since that review of Lovejoy’s book, an accomplishment considering trolling has been invented since then.

Wonderful journalism,

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