Monthly Archives: January 2012

Anelka, Drogba and the Shenhua Revolution

by Andrew Crawford

Having even the remotest interest in Shanghai Shenhua should probably come with a health warning. When I die a decade prematurely, blame it on the side from the Hongkou stadium for weakening my heart and badly damaging my sanity. Shenhua is a dangerous interest to have. Believe me, its lots of fun but if you can, enjoy it in moderation.

The Chinese Super League (CSL) has recently been thrust into the spotlight via the big money arrivals of Nicolas Anelka and Jean Tigana at my ‘local’ club, who having not won a title in almost a decade, have now exploded into relevance once again. No-one is entirely sure where the money has come from for these signings but equally, no one really cares – Shanghai is a brash, loud city where success is expected and demanded. As long as the new arrivals help the club win, everyone’s happy.

For the hardcore fans, the ones who transform the north and south ends of the club’s otherwise sparsely filled stadium into swaying, swearing, boisterous carnivals of noise, the signings are a mixed blessing.  Anelka is still a very good player and Tigana, despite being a big fan of resigning without warning, is a proven top level coach. For a success starved club, this is exactly the sort of bold investment that the fans wanted.

However, one can only imagine that there will be more than a little frustration at the sudden influx of new supporters who have been enticed by the hype of Anelka. Ticket prices will go up, not only to fund the wages of the new arrivals but also because there will be more demand, certainly for the first half of the season.

There is also the problem of our chairman, Zhu Jun, who frankly is about as likeable as small pox. This is a man who recently made Shenhua play their ‘home’ games for the Chinese FA Cup in Wuhu, a city in the neighbouring Anhui province over two-hundred miles away from Shanghai. Last season, he sold off all Shenhua’s best players midway through the season, sparking a spectacular nosedive from the top-half of the table and into a relegation dogfight. There are more unicorns in the city then there are people with nice things to say about Mr Zhu.

However, the Anelka singing has given the eccentric videogames mogul a new platform in which to shamelessly promote himself to anyone who’ll listen, much to the delight of rumour mongers everywhere. You’ll probably be reading about Shenhua’s interest in Didier Drogba, which is highly unlikely to go through as the club already have two foreign strikers (Anelka and former Australian international, Joel Griffiths) and need to get an overseas defender or two to strengthen their backline. Fans of Brazilian club, Internacional will be equally curious about the fate of their Argentine playmaker, Andres D’Alessandro, who is also rumoured to be moving to Shanghai. Basically, if you have played in a big European league in the last five years, chances are you’ve been mentioned in the same sentence as Shenhua.  Guti and Michael Ballack are among the names that have been recently mentioned and with Zhu reluctant to deny almost any rumour, the pick-a-name reporting shows no sign of slowing down.

As someone who likes to spend his Saturdays encamped with the Blue Devils, one of the supporters groups in the Hongkou’s north stand, I can’t wait for the season to begin. The all-standing atmosphere in that part of the ground is a joy to behold, especially when tickets plus a beer can be as little as a fiver. I desperately want this season to be a success, not only as a writer who likes the romantic story of a once great club returning to its former glory but also as a resident of Shanghai who wants to see his club do well. Some fans would like a title run but for me, a decent league finish with a couple of wins over rivals Hangzhou and Beijing would be just fine. And the less Zhu, the better, obviously.

You can follow Shenhua’s fortunes by following Andrew on Twitter @ShouldersGalore

Jordan Rhodes – ‘Premier League player’?

by Adam Bate

Jordan Rhodes has certainly got the Premier League’s attention. As many as eight top flight clubs were represented at Huddersfield Town’s game against Wycombe Wanderers last week. And they are likely to have been impressed – the striker bagged five goals in a remarkable display. The question all of those scouts will have to answer is simple. Can Rhodes do it in the Premier League?

Such is the Scotland forward’s form at present, it almost seems churlish to ask. The numbers are phenomenal. Rhodes had scored 27 goals before the Christmas decorations were even down. And the 21-year-old striker is improving. “His finishing is up there with Alan Shearer, Andy Cole and Kevin Phillips,” said Huddersfield boss Lee Clark. “And his general play is excellent.”

And yet question marks will inevitably hang over the youngster. Much will be made of the massive gulf between League One and the Premier League. It’s far safer to go for proven top flight performers, or so the theory goes. But what is a proven Premier League player? The reflected glory that comes from being a youngster in and around the squad at a big club can count for a lot – but sometimes with very little substance to back it up.

Look at Federico Macheda. The 20-year-old striker has recently been snapped up by QPR on loan from Manchester United. The west London club were seemingly unperturbed by the Italian’s goalless contribution to Sampdoria’s relegation in his previous loan spell away from Old Trafford. And that’s no surprise – because he is a Manchester United player.

And then there is Everton’s popular frontrunner Victor Anichebe. The Nigerian is in his seventh season at Goodison Park with little suggestion he is likely to drop down the leagues. But Macheda and Anichebe’s combined number of career league goals currently stands at 12. In a whopping 128 games. To put this into context, Rhodes recently matched this combined league goal tally in under three weeks.

Of course, the standard is higher. But it’s equally legitimate to turn the question around and ask whether the likes of Macheda and Anichebe are capable of scoring 12 goals in five games in the competitive world of the Football League. Perhaps we should forget a few of our preconceived ideas of what constitutes a top flight player.

Norwich’s Paul Lambert is just the latest in a long line of manager’s from promoted clubs that have challenged the notion that there is a ceiling for lower league players. Lambert realised an important lesson – it’s better to sign a player adored by League One fans than ignored by Premier League ones. The Scot invested his summer transfer kitty in hungry young talent such as Elliott Bennett, Steve Morison and Anthony Pilkington and is now reaping the rewards.

Bennett and Pilkington both featured in last season’s League One PFA team of the year and they are just the latest in a long line of players who have made the step up. England internationals Joe Hart, Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott, Michael Dawson, Ashley Young, Andy Carroll, Tom Huddlestone and Matt Jarvis all featured in lower league representative sides, while Gareth Bale is another graduate of the League One PFA team of the year.

So let’s not get too caught up with the question of whether Jordan Rhodes is capable of proving himself. After all, he’s been doing that all season.

GhostGoal in 2011

2011 – A Thank You

It’s been a drunken busy Christmas and New Year period and I haven’t got round to summarising 2011 on the site. I wanted to take the chance to belatedly amend that now.

2011 was the first full year GhostGoal has been in operation and it’s been great that it’s developed as it has. The year began with the ‘My Favourite Goals’ feature which started out as a chance to invite anyone to write something about, well, their favourite goal.

The fact that ‘anyone’ ended up including award-winning writers such as Andrew Thomas, Michael Cox, Dave Hartrick, Jack Lang and many more volunteers was much more than we could have hoped. I think it highlighted the fun side of blogging collaboration in what turned out to be a fraught year for the – awful phrase coming up – ‘blogging community’.

Since then we’ve been chugging along. It was good to be one of the first sites to point out back in May that Owen Coyle wasn’t all that people held him up to be, while the defence of Serie A from the criticism of the Sunday Supplement brigade in October certainly seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people.

For me personally it has been a far more successful year than I could have hoped. When Oli and I first had the idea to jot down a few of our frustrations back in May 2010, the notion that this could directly lead to me getting paid to write about football would have been ridiculous. But (albeit in a small way) that’s what has happened over the past year with magazine commissions, regular work with Sky Sports and even an award nomination.

As a result of these writing distractions, the plans for GhostGoal in 2012 are sketchy but I’m afraid there won’t be any dramatic “I quit” stories regarding the site. Not least because it’s actually looking better than ever thanks to the much appreciated efforts of Thomas Baugh and his redesign.

And besides, I’m sure Oli will have plenty of things he needs to get off his chest in the coming year and – even if I don’t get round to writing as much as I’d like – with over 200 posts there’s plenty of nonsense for new arrivals to wade through should they be of a warped disposition.

Most of all, thanks for reading, commenting, contributing and criticising over the past 12 months.

All the best

Adam

Why Mick McCarthy’s time at Wolves is up

by Adam Bate

Progress. It’s the bane of the football manager. No matter what you deliver there’ll always be people wanting more. It’s a problem surely consuming Wolves manager Mick McCarthy right now. After lifting the club from the Championship in 2009, fans are now left wondering if progress is something McCarthy is still capable of delivering.

You can read the rest of this article by clicking here to go to BT Life’s a Pitch