Monthly Archives: October 2010

Bothroyd for England?

Here at GhostGoal I had a thought. It had been building for some time and then it simply had to be blurted out.

But I was too much of a coward to write the piece on here. There may be Premiership fans reading who would dismiss it as the ramblings of a madman. So I sought shelter in the arms of others. A place where the the virtues of Championship forwards are appreciated.

Check out this piece that appeared on TheSeventyTwo earlier in the week:

TheSeventyTwo: Bothroyd for England?

Gollo’s Rant: Rooney is Finished

Did you enjoy the last one or did it infuriate? Here’s my mate Gollo to speak the unspeakable once again …

Whenever there’s a brilliant new teenager on the scene, it doesn’t take long before someone utters the phrase: ‘Imagine what he’ll be like when he reaches his peak’.  
 
We’ve heard it time and again about the likes of Rooney, Walcott et al. And here’s the problem – in terms of the modern footballer it makes absolutely no sense. 
 
If you believe the various ex pros who loiter around the punditry circuit like teenage chavs around Bargain Booze, then footballers peak somewhere between 26-28.  So when a player bursts onto the scene at 16 we are told to expect them to be achieving non-stop greatness for at least a decade. This may have indeed been the case in the 60s, or even as late as the 80s, but football in this country was played at a slightly different pace. A centre forward with a wise old head could use his experience and nous to great effect on younger more naïve defenders. Football was also more physical. Despite Mr Wenger’s ceaseless protestations, the truth is that small skilful players in this country have never had it so good. They can’t be tackled from behind and nudges that ‘Chopper’ Harris probably considered foreplay are punishable by yellow cards these days. And rightly so. I’m not pining for those days by any stretch of the imagination – the game has changed.
 
Modern football, especially in the Premier League, is so quick that pace, athleticism and physical conditioning are more important than ever. At the top level, players are scientifically conditioned, their weights are carefully monitored (I can’t get the image of Jon Parkin out of my head here but I’m going to push on regardless) and generally , when they head out onto the pitch they are as ready as they can physically be without breaking the rules of the game. Which leads me nicely onto my next question, how many 28 yr old men are in better condition now than when they were 18? Our metabolism is faster, our recovery rates are faster … according to Cosmopolitan Magazine (don’t ask) we even screw better when we’re 18.  Sure, we may ‘fill out’ a little until we hit twenty one but after that it’s just a slow and painful trudge towards death.  Add onto this the style of football in the Premier League, it’s the fastest league in the world, where skill and first touch are frequently choked by teams closing down. We expect people to run endlessly, centre forwards are universally applauded for chasing down goal kicks and running the channels and booed for trying skilful flicks anywhere outside the penalty area.

In addition to the physical demands, there are also the psychological demands placed upon the modern player. Before I hear the John Gregorys amongst you ask: ”How can a guy earning that much be depressed”, bear in mind that the media scrutiny these players are under is greater than ever. The top English players have massive expectation on their shoulders; it has been assumed by those in the know that Wayne Rooney would’ve won England the World Cup single-handedly by now. Don’t get me wrong, footballers have an amazing life, but when you consider the endless media scrutiny on their private lives and paparazzi tracking their every move then the ceaseless expectation must take their toll.

Let’s continue to use Wayne Rooney as the subject. At 16 he burst onto the scene with a love of the game and talent to burn.  Aged 18, he moves to the biggest club in the world (Fergie says so) for a huge transfer fee and is given more money than he will ever know what to do with. He then spends the next six years getting kicked from pillar to post on the pitch and putting his body through the mill week in week out. I don’t have the stats to hand (I’m from the MOTD school of punditry) but we know Rooney is the sort of player who will run himself into the ground. He does this for ten months of the year for six years straight. I have checked that in this period he has never played less than 40 games a season. Regardless of the aforementioned psychological strains this amount of effort must have a cumulative effect on his body - and it’s starting to show. As a guy who hopes desperately that England will win the World Cup in his lifetime it pains me to say this … but when you consider the above - Wayne Rooney’s best days are almost certainly behind him.

Welcome Back Nenad

Our latest piece for WolvesBlog.

When Nenad Milijas signed for Wolves in the early summer of 2009, he was arguably the club’s most exciting Premiership signing. Yes it’s true; Kevin Doyle was the club’s record purchase. But it was Milijas that had that hint of the exotic. After all, it was the captain of Red Star Belgrade no less – conjuring images of Dejan Savicevic, Robert Prosinecki and the club that had been champions of Europe as recently as 1991.

However, concerns about the player were there from the outset. The esteemed European scout turned pundit Tor-Kristian Karlsen listed the purchase as one of the worst buys of the summer, describing Milijas as follows: 

“Great set pieces but if you want to have a prototype of a player who does not fit English football, you can take out a patent on Nenad Milijas. Classic Balkan playmaker, gifted but about as mobile as a refrigerator.”

There were moments of magic in that first season but, in truth, Karlsen’s assessment proved spot on. The set pieces were there for all to see, never more dramatically than in his appearance off the bench to provide two assists and a valuable point at Stoke City. The gifts were displayed fleetingly but memorably: a thunderbolt against Bolton, a delicious back heel to help win the late penalty versus Aston Villa.  And the lack of mobility was evident in abundance – written through every performance he nearly delivered.

And yet the nagging suspicion remained – if the platform for success is in place, Nenad Milijas could still prove an asset. For all the false dawns, the axing and recalls, the bald statistics of Milijas’ Wolves career to date read:

1,532 minutes, 4 goals, 7 assists. 

1,532 minutes. The equivalent of 17 games. Extrapolated over a league season it equates to something like 9 goals and 16 assists – a contribution that compares favourably with almost any midfielder in the game.

Nonetheless, it seemed likely that the mercurial playmaker’s days in the Premiership were numbered. Indeed, it was something of a surprise that Milijas was not offloaded in the summer – to France, to Turkey, to Russia … frankly anywhere but England.

And then a funny thing happened. Milijas became useful again. Injury to Adlene Guedioura was followed by the suspension of Karl Henry. Even then, the Serbian man would most likely have been ignored for the visit to Chelsea but for the ineligibility of Michael Mancienne to play against his parent club. As a result, Mick McCarthy was forced to make use of his £2.6m signing – and so he began to talk up the player’s ball retention skills:

“We can’t chase the ball for 90 minutes – we have to keep it. And if we do that, it certainly stops the wave after wave of attacks. Nenad’s a very talented player who can keep the ball and pass it to a shirt the same colour as his. We’ll have to do that because if you just keep giving it back to them by booting it up the pitch, it will keep coming back.”

On the face of it, Stamford Bridge seems the unlikeliest of venues for the Serb to prove his worth. However, he performed admirably and it can hardly have been lost on McCarthy that the player did exactly what was requested of him: 

Guardian Chalkboards powered by Opta data

As the Opta data shows, not only did Milijas keep the ball with remarkable ease, he also managed five shots on target as Petr Cech faced what was statistically the busiest afternoon of his Chelsea career. For a team like Wolves, a player who can keep the ball and provide a goal threat is one the club ignores at its peril. It perhaps also requires a re-evaluation of the way Milijas has been used by his employer thus far.

It was always one of the curiosities of Milijas’ 2009-10 season that he was dropped from the side just one game after McCarthy elected to switch to a 4-5-1 formation. The new system proved a success, with fellow left-footed playmaker David Jones to the fore. But after its initial appearance in the home draw against Liverpool, Milijas himself saw just an hour of league action in the remaining four months of the season.

This seems an anomaly for the simple reason that Milijas would appear to be a player made for a 4-5-1 system. The extra man in midfield ensures simple passing options are regularly available and would allow others to do his running. After battling gamely in a 4-4-2, Milijas was discarded just as Wolves began to operate with a formation that may have allowed him to flourish.

Stamford Bridge may have been a false dawn. Nenad Milijas may be out the team again by next week when Henry and Mancienne return. But the weekend was a welcome reminder of the talents of Wolves’ gifted Balkan playmaker with the mobility of a refrigerator.

Gollo’s Rant: Modern Football

 

It’s been a strange old week. So we agreed to let our mate Gollo try and make some sense of it. He ranted. And we sort of liked it. 

Having been spectacularly bored at work for the entire duration of the Rooney saga, I’ve been able to follow every twist and turn on the internet. I’ve watched the fans of the various clubs. The despair. The gloating. The feigned indifference. Needless to say it got me thinking on the various emotions football fans are exposed to in the digital age and the effect this has on our lives.

In days gone by, being a football fan was very simple. In the 50s and 60s you went along to the game on a Saturday, smoked your pipe with the lads before having two pints of bitter then heading off home. In the 70s and 80s as Match of the Day really came into its own. You now had the opportunity to watch other teams on the television and maybe formulate an opinion on them with the help of ‘expert’ analysis by Jimmy Hill. But the match day experience was much the same – with the addition of being able to have a fight with the police and/or opposition fans to really spice things up a little if you so desired.

It wasn’t until Sky invented football in 1992 that the modern day football experience really began to evolve. Suddenly you could watch every team in the league. You could covet other teams players. Decide which referees genuinely did have a penchant for ‘waxing their dolphins’. Now you could admire Andy Gray’s tactical analysis and decide exactly how far back down the evolutionary ladder Richard Keys belonged.

The tabloid press got involved by churning out transfer rumour after transfer rumour, each more unlikely than the rest, but proving the old theory that if you throw enough shit at the wall, some of it is bound to stick. In 1998 Sky launched Sky Sports News and did what they had threatened to do for six years and made it possible to watch nothing but sport for 24 hours a day. Combined with the explosion of usage in the internet this meant the football fan’s relationship with his club and his favourite players was closer than ever before. You could read about their boozing and womanising antics in the front of the tabloids. Or read about their next transfer in the back of the tabloids or online. And then, to top it all, watch the aforementioned antics affect their performance on Sky on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Saturation point, it seemed, had been reached.

But there was a third and (hopefully) final age dawning. As technology continued to move at a breathtaking pace and the world of social networking and blogging became mainstream, interaction with our teams reached new levels. For example, over the past few days I have tried to antagonise various different sets of North West football fans on my Facebook page. my Twitter account, on F365, The Guardian Blog and Teamtalk. I’m a Wolves fan you understand, but I just quite enjoy starting arguments then heading for the hills (think Nigel Winterburn with the Di Canio / Paul Alcock incident and you’re almost there).

The dawn of independent media, internet phones and social networking has turned some modern football fans into teenage girls in their first relationship –  ‘Does he love me?’  ‘Will he leave me for the girl with bigger boobs?’  What can I do to make him stay?’  ‘The bastard, I’ll never forgive him’  ‘He loves me again’ and so on and so forth. Most Man Utd fans have gone through a very similar set of emotions over the past few days and what’s more they’ve gone through them very publicly.

Now I dye my hair blonde, exfoliate and moisturise regularly as well as wearing skinny jeans – so far be it for me to tell anyone to ‘man up’. I can also acknowledge that the digital age and independent media has made us more informed than ever before. But I can’t help but feel that when grown men feel the need to share their emotions on a website to help them cope with what is essentially an exchange of contracts then something is slightly wrong with the modern football fan.

Roll on Saturday.

 

You can’t follow Gollo on Twitter. He deleted his account. 

Hugo Sanchez

‘Hugol’ Sanchez’s goal scoring record in Spain stands up to very close scrutiny. 234 goals in 347 appearances makes him the second highest goal scorer in La Liga history. Post war, only Alfredo di Stefano has a better goals to game ratio in the Spanish top flight. 29 goals in 58 appearances for Mexico cements his standing as one the greatest goalscorers of his, or any era.

Sanchez joined Real Madrid from city rivals Atletico in 1985. Real went on to win 5 consecutive La Liga titles, with Sanchez winning the Pichichi (top scorer) trophy in his first three seasons, to add to the same award he won in his last season at Atletico. His most successful season was 1989/90, when he scored a record equalling 38 goals, winning him the European Golden Boot for the first time.

What is particularly pleasing about Hugo Sanchez is that not only was he a great goalscorer he was also a scorer of great goals. Sanchez’s training as a gymnast is visible in both his trademark somersault celebration - and in a catalogue of acrobatic goals. This one is probably his best …

 

Sanchez’s glorious playing career was followed by a chequered managerial one. He had success with Mexican team Club Universidad Nacional, leading them to their first championship in 13 years in 2004. Unfortunately, the success was not sustained and Sanchez resigned in November 2005. A brief spell at Club Nexaca was followed by two years in charge of the Mexican national team. The highlight being a 2-0 victory over Brazil and a 6-0 thumping of Paraguay in the 2007 Copa America, where they would eventually lose out 3-0 to Argentina in the semi-final.

A more comprehensive look at Sanchez’s goals can be seen here. Well worth a watch if you’ve got five minutes to spare and don’t mind the grainy footage. The amount of overhead kicks is quite absurd.

Second Half Syndrome

This is a post of ours that appeared on WolvesBlog this week.
If you are not a Wolves fan this is probably a post you’ll want to skip (lots of ‘we’ and ‘our’ etc!)

It is often said that the real quality of a manager is shown in his ability to change a game. Through substitutions, tactical changes and inspiring half time team talks. 

This season’s half-time league table shows Wolves in an unlikely 3rd place. We have a goal difference of +4 in the first half, compared to -9 in the second half. A closer examination of the results shows that the team would be in a similar position had the league shown results up to 75 minutes. With the season only 8 games old, this is not a particularly large sample. However, the discrepancy is stark enough to hold a degree of significance and does perhaps reveal a few problems within the Wolves squad … Time for a degree of wild speculation …

With the ‘young and hungry’ ethos put in place on McCarthy’s arrival at the club, added to the supposed brilliant work of Tony Daley and the oft lauded state of the art medical and training equipment, it is hard to imagine that the fitness of the players is an issue. But anyone who witnessed Saturday’s draw with West Ham will tell you that the players visibly tired early in the second half. Obviously, the pace we played in the first half, constantly pressing and harrying the opposition, could not be sustained for the entire game. Early on, any pass slid in to Scott Parker and co was pressed quickly by Jones and Edwards high up the field. After the break, the West Ham midfield was given plenty of time to pick out passes to the forwards, while Kieron Dyer was afforded acres of space between the lines:

Ultimately, the alarming chasm between the energy shown in the first 45 minutes compared to the second half does raise a few question marks over the strength and fitness of the players. 

It also asks questions of McCarthy’s management. West Ham came out in the second half clearly energised, whilst Wolves were lethargic at best. Although McCarthy’s tactical nous has always been in doubt, he is very much seen as someone who gets the best of out his players and demands, above all else, work rate. This has been evident throughout his time as manager - opposition teams very rarely ‘out work’ Wolves. But, there is a difference between working hard and working effectively. It could be argued that whilst Wolves undoubtedly work hard, a lot of this is when we haven’t got the ball. When we do have the ball, we seem reluctant to get numbers into the box. An old favourite, Andy Keogh, demonstrates this point perfectly. As all of his fans point out, he does work incredibly hard, chasing down defenders and closing down the goalkeeper. Yet, when we actually have the ball he often goes missing, almost scared to get involved and get into the box - which is why he scores so few goals. Whilst McCarthy gets his players to work hard, does he instil enough belief in them to actually demand the ball and do something with it? Something that becomes more apparent in the second half of games as they become more stretched.

The game against West Ham provides another case in point, regarding substitutions. At 1-1, Steven Fletcher was replaced by Jelle Van Damme. Although Van Damme went on to occupy a similar position to Fletcher, it was very much a substitution to preserve a point rather than go for all three. We could have switched to 4-4-2, as West Ham had done in bringing on Carlton Cole for Kieron Dyer. After all, our first half goal had come about by having 6 players in and around the Hammers’ box in open play:

 

How often did this happen in the second half?

Similarly, at Fulham, with the score 1-1, two midfielders (Guedioura and Jones) replaced two strikers (Ebanks-Blake and Doyle). Although Fletcher had come on at half time for Van Damme, the trend of reducing our attacking options when the game was level is clear. When 1-0 up at Spurs, Fletcher and Jarvis were replaced by Van Damme and Edwards. In isolation, a totally understandable and probably correct decision, but another game in which we threw away the game late on. I don’t think McCarthy’s substitutions are overly negative, but it does perhaps reveal a slight lack of belief in his players ability to go on and win a game. More importantly, they are not working. We are conceding so many late goals by inviting pressure and not being good enough to repel it.

Wolves second half fortunes contrast wildly with Stoke and West Brom. Stoke are yet to be leading going into half time, yet are still enjoying relative mid table security. Is it going too far to conclude that these teams are fitter and more shrewdly managed during a game? The drab analysis is that it is probably too early to read into the discrepancies in the table and as the league takes shape the relative positions will become more similar. However, it does illustrate some issues McCarthy needs to address if Wolves are to surivive this season. We have thrown away too many leads already for it to be coincidence.

Pancev & Savicevic – Red Star vs Bayern – 1991

I remember watching the European Cup Final between Red Star Belgrade and Marseille. The result was 0-0 with Red Star winning on penalties. The British commentators were appalled. Apparently, only one side had gone out to play football and that was Marseille … the Yugoslavs were set up to play on the counter attack and unwilling to take risks … they’d played for penalties and it was an injustice that they were walking away with Europe’s greatest prize.

Well that’s one view. The truth is that Red Star were playing to their strengths – strengths that had served them so spectacularly well to get to the final. I find it hard to believe that anyone who had seen their breathtaking counter-attacking goals in Munich the previous month could have been so critical of Red Star’s ‘negative’ approach.

That day was a classic example of counter-attacking football. 1-0 down to Bayern in Munich, things looked bleak. Then, on the stroke of half-time, Bayern tried one probing pass too many and the game was turned on its head. Some neat work found Robert Prosinecki in virtually the right-back position. 5 touches and 9 seconds later, Darko Pancev had the ball in the net and it was all-square:

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The second half winner was a remarkably similar story. Once again Red Star invited the German champions onto them but retained their shape and waited for the error. It came when a threaded forward pass was intercepted – 5 touches and 9 seconds later, the score was 2-1. This time Pancev delightfully nudged the ball to Dejan Savicevic and the future Milan man raced forward to fire home with aplomb.

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Red Star nearly threw away their advantage in the second leg during a memorable 2-2 draw but it was events in Munich that shaped the tie and set Red Star Belgrade on their way to the European title.

A victory for the world class counter-punchers.

For more on the roots of this victory, read my piece on Yugoslavia ’87 - The Real Golden Generation.

The Chris Waddle Mystery


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There are articles, essays, dissertations and tomes out there dedicated to highlighting the folly of English football’s misguided attitude to the beautiful game. There’s little point me going too far down that road. I’m simply asking you to watch the footage above and consider the following:

  • Waddle played in the 1991 European Cup Final for Marseille.
  • He came 10th in the 1991 Ballon d’Or voting to decide the European Player of the Year.
  • He was also later voted Marseille’s 2nd greatest player of the century – behind Jean-Pierre Papin.

Even after his return from France, Waddle enjoyed success back in England:

  • Waddle scored in the 1993 FA Cup Final replay for Sheffield Wednesday.
  • He was voted the 1993 Football Writers’ Player of the Year.

None of these achievements were considered significant enough to warrant selection for Graham Taylor’s England team, despite the failings of the side at that time. He made his last England appearance in 1991.

There’s no real justification for discarding a talent as great as Waddle’s.

Well, ok, maybe there’s one:

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