How good is James Hanson?

When a shelf stacker and Guiseley forward put a couple of goals past Bradford (Park Avenue) on new year’s day two years ago one has to wonder if the people at the other Leeds/Bradford game asked the question “How good is James Hanson?”

For sure he had – by all accounts – dominated the Park Avenue defenders but – like Hanson – they were part times and while the Guiseley looked good he did not stride the field like a Colossus. Eventually Mark Ellis had a whisper to Stuart McCall who took him to Bradford City where he became top scorer in his first season.

When watching England beat Hungry on Wednesday night most of the discussion around our sofa was on the young players called up by Fabio Capello and the ramifications of that. There was a contention – by yours truly – that Newcastle United’s much coveted Andy Carroll should have been given a call up. Others thought that (amongst other things on a lively night of discourse) a player could not be judged as good enough for the England side if he had not been proven good enough in the Premier League.

So the question formulated that if Carroll might be considered good enough on the basis of a season not competing against the top class of English football how good could Hanson be?

Rewind to Hanson’s first season at Valley Parade and one recalls on many occasions turning to those around and exclaiming with an amazement that “that guy just does not lose headers!”

Indeed Hanson – when fit and on form – is uncanny in his abilities to rise high, win the ball and feed it accurately to his team mates. Ball winning was a Barry Conlon thing but Barry did not win as often, nor did he head it as accurately, nor did even he put in the effort of James Hanson and when watching last season’s player of the season very few would have put the limits on him that were placed on Conlon.

Conlon – it was said – had to have his best game to be as good as the rest of the side and “good enough” for League Two. Hanson – thus far – has not come up against a League Two defence where he did not enough the balance of play. Long may his superb attitude continue because – at the moment – one doubts that League Two is poising different problems than that game with Park Avenue.

Then came Nottingham Forest a team that – were it not for the randomness of the play-offs – be in the Premier League and the squad to go with it. Hanson – a half time sub – enjoyed as good a return against the twice European Champions as he did against League Two sides, and did in his non-league days. He won more in the air than one would expect against a League Two side, let alone a side who have pretensions for the Premier League.

So how good is James Hanson? Tongue in cheek one might say that if Andy Carroll might wear the three lions then why not give Hanson a call up? If one does not believe that having played in the top flight is essential for England honours – and Steve Bull‘s five in thirteen suggest that a player who has not been at the highest level can offer something to England – then perhaps the national management should be looking at the League Two players who impressively play up when facing a side from a higher division. Scalability in football play is a rare concept.

Returning to the question in hand – and not suggesting that he should be partnered with Wayne Rooney next game – how good is James Hanson?

Certainly he has proved himself able at levels lower than League Two and at League Two itself. His first game against a higher opposition did not curtail his progress so perhaps all one can say is that so far we have yet to see a ceiling on his abilities.

Perhaps though for an answer to the question we need to look not at ourselves, but at the stars. The younger stars of Nottingham Forest that is who were used that night and that manager Billy Davies described as having things come to easy to. Davies’ criticism that a young player has the big car and the nice house too early at his club and as a result they lack the hunger makes a sharp contrast to the two City goalscorers on the evening.

As Davies bemoans the BMWs that his teenagers drive Hanson and fellow goal getter David Syers and men of the match Jon McLaughlin Steve Williams know that a failure will take them back to the days of part time football and a day job. If they ever drive a BMW it is because they have rewarded themselves for a lot of hard work by replacing the broken down Skoda.

There is something utterly refreshing about watching Hanson, Syers, McLauglin and Williams play. When asking how good one of these players can be then the answer is something of a cop out – they can be as good as they want to be.

At present there is a debate on McLaughlin and if he is “good enough” as if this were a binary situation and one which should the player kick back and stop making the effort that has put in him in the position he is in now he would remain at the level he is now.

It is an excellent attitude which has brought them into league football and that same attitude that saw them as the core members of a team which beat Nottingham Forest. Maintain that attitude and it is hard to set a limit on what they can achieve, lose it and they will stop being “good”.

Would Taylor go into the three lions den?

There is a level of speculation in the summer months of closed season which borders on the curious and the report that Peter Taylor is being touted as potentially a possible addition to the England coaching line up is perhaps as odd as it has got for Bradford City and the football rumour columns for sometime.

Taylor – who managed the national side in Italy – is said to be Italian Fabio Capello’s choice of an English man to add to his coaching set up nestled somewhere between Stuart Pearce and Franco Baldini on the increasingly lengthy technical areas which International sides have.

The report will probably – in time – be filed amongst the things that did not happen as most of these things are although it is worth pausing for a moment to consider the possibility of the Bradford City boss combining his duties at Valley Parade with those at England. Perhaps he would miss the odd match leaving Wayne Jacobs in charge of the Bantams but running both jobs at once would seem feasible.

Taylor was England u21 manager and Hull City boss at the same time and Kevin Keegan managed both Fulham and England at one point. It is hard to imagine many conflicts of interest. Should Wayne Rooney be moaning to some rag like tabloid that he does not think it is fair that he be dropped just because the coach knows new England striker James Hanson from working together at VP then perhaps a problem will have emerged. Failing that aside from divided attention there are few minuses and – as the England coaches probably have an in with a good few players – considerable pluses.

From City’s point of view should a request come for Taylor and a chance be there to work out some sharing agreement then why not. It would also give the Bantams a chance to give Jacobs a bit of on the job manager’s training, something few number twos ever get.

From England’s point of view though appointing Peter Taylor would – from a public relations point of view – be something of a nightmare.

One can almost read the articles now. “What can you say about the FA that – when faced with the post-South Africa malaise of the game – responds by bringing the manager of that well know success story Bradford City into the set up?” The criticism writes itself. “Taylor – an exciting prospect in FA coaching ten years ago – is a step backwards for the national game.”

It might not be true, but since when have the newspaper ever let the truth stand in the way of a viciously judgemental op-ed?

“What can you say about the FA when their idea of discipline is to employ the man who twice gave a job to footballer turned murder Gavin Grant?” These are the lions that devour the English game and while Taylor is a man of some confidence and standing Bradford City could probably do without its chosen one being mauled for the sake of sating the public’s appetite to read attacks on any and everything connected to the national side?

If Taylor is the outstanding man – the man who can make a difference between the choking of South Africa and the glory of qualification – then what a wonderful thing it would be to share him between our nation and our club.

Unless he does make that seismic difference though the men at Wembley would do him – and us – a better service by give Taylor a wide berth.

England and City lack the mechanism

As Fabio Capello prepares his England side for the third game of a so far disturbing World Cup campaign he does so under an expectation from his employers that should his charges not progress then the Italian will leave his post.

The FA expect Capello to resign – sacking him after removing the clause of removal less than a month ago is out of the question – and will no doubt recall the lofty aims of reaching the semi-finals which were talked about in preparation for the World Cup. Those aims are very achievable for the England side – if not more – but first things first the lads have to string three passes together. When that follows everything else falls into place.

Bradford City last season played with a manager who had offered and withdrawn his resignation the previous season. Stuart McCall said he would leave the club if he did not take his team to the play-offs and he did not but the contract he had in place allowed him to resign – or not to resign – as he saw fit and when he was convinced to stay so he did until he felt that once again he could no longer achieve a play-off position.

The two situations have parallels and the employers in both cases could learn. If there is a minimum requirement for the position – and while these two cases have it as that requirement is set by the managers themselves one has to suspect that the employers have a similar set of aims – then there seems to be scope for including those requirements as a mechanism in the contracts of the manager.

Take Peter Taylor for example who has signed a one year deal with the club. Taylor has moved his family up North for the experience of being City boss but – seemingly in an effort to ensure he maintains a level of control – Mark Lawn has only offered a one year deal that hinges on the club achieving something this year. Taylor accepts this as part of the package of modern football but it strikes one as odd and unusual that a criteria for success should exists in the minds of the chairmen who may or may not offer a new deal at the end of the season and not in the public realm.

One imagines that as he watches today’s game Mark Lawn has in his head a set of achievements which Taylor must make in order to have a new contract offered. Promotion would almost certainly be on that list, a play-off place without promotion might be, cup runs might figure on the list. Come next March if City are hovering there or there abouts and his manager is doing well but only have two months of his deal left to run Lawn might decide to take the plunge and give him a new deal. Should the team fall – as happened before – then Lawn would regret that and should Taylor decide that his now bolstered CV could earn him more stability elsewhere then Lawn could rue not offering sooner.

The solution is in the problem. The set of criteria could be build into the contract as a mechanism. Imagine a deal on the table for three years, perhaps five, which includes the stipulation that various achievement criteria need to be met in order to have that contract roll over from one year to the next. The contract says you will be Bradford City manager next season if you achieve a top seven finish. If a manager did fail to meet the criteria then he could be offered a new deal but his old one would be as invalid as if the last year of it had just run out and the club would be free to find a replacement without the messy business of firing.

For the manager’s protection there is a punitive payment by the club should his contract be terminated giving him the security of not having to worry about being fired during the season for poor results and for the club there is the confidence that the man in charge – if successful – is tied to the club long term.

Best still for supporters the who-can-shout-loudest game of baying for a manager to be sacked is done away with. The manager has a job at the end of the season if he achieves various things otherwise he does not and all the shouting and hoo-har in the world would not change that.

The devil is in the detail. The mechanism would have to be said at a level that supported progress while recognising limitations. It need not be tied to league position either and could have the weight of cup matches won or home victories achieved in it if those were the requirements of the chairman offering the deal. Most importantly though it is transparent and makes a statement to all what the manager and the clubs aims are and what is considered to be performance rather than allowing managerial decisions to fall into the realms of personality and ego.

Fabio Capello aims for the semi-finals of the World Cup but is expected to resign should he not reach the last sixteen having taken the job from Steve McLaren who was paid off after his failing to make the European Championships last sixteen. If there is a minimum requirement for the England side to achieve under a manager then write that into the contract in a way that ends debate and sets in stone what is considered realistic and good enough.

England and the Spirit of Sir Bobby

Before the days of frustration seemed to overwhelm English football in the mid-1990s when the clichés of losing to the Germans and overpaid players under performing started to loom large in the popular mindset there were two World Cups in which are said to have excelled.

I recall them as halcyon days myself. Whatever I will say about my parents I will never criticise the slap dash attitude to bedtime that meant that unlike many of my schoolmates I was allowed to stay up until two or three in the morning watching as much of the Mexican World Cup of 1986 as I liked and saw everything up to and beyond The Hand Of God.

When the Italian World Cup of 1990 came around I’d finished my GCSEs the aforementioned parents were on holiday in Bulgaria and I had nothing to do in the summer except watch football. They were glorious days that ended in Rome, on penalties, with Gazza’s tears and Sir Bobby’s clenched fist of regret.

If only, it seemed to say.

Those days are recalled as a silver age by England FC. Not Moore and co in 1966 at Wembley but the next best thing with unfair exits at the heart of the mythology of both. A far cry from Fabio and a team which struggled to put three passes together in a row in South Africa.

Perhaps not. In 1986 the English started against Portugal – do not let the name scare you these were a third rate European nation then – and a win was expected but did not come. Indeed I can recall clearly seeing the ball sweep in from the close side and be finished untidily at far post by a rather portly looking chap with a moustache. England had threatened in the game I recall but ended with nothing at all.

Then came Morocco – a place that at the time I associated more with a cartoon Mole than football – who were the minnows of the group a fact illustrated by the way that they had two players to a sticker in the Panini album.

The minutia of the game – played in the early hours – eludes me but the major moments are burnt into the mind. Bryan Robson – who was a one of a kind player in his day – went off injured clutching the shoulder Sir Bobby Robson had begged Manchester United to allow him three months off to have an operation to fixed and about five minutes later Ray Wilkins was sent off for what some might call throwing the ball at the Referee although others would say that were the round thing to have hit a snail on the way to the man in the middle then it would have stopped so weak was the hurl, clearly not a red card offence but a red card was given.

I remember half time in our house but only when I’m talking to my therapist.

One point from two games and England where nowhere. The fans who had paid to go to Mexico were demanding that the FA or even the Thatcher Government pay for them to get home and most certainly for for Sir Bobby Robson to be sacked. Having failed to qualify for Euro 84 it seems that Bobby – or Booby Robson as he was christened back then – and England would part company not long after.

Peter Beardsley was thrown into the side and Gary Lineker got a hat-trick against Poland and then the rest soon became a glorious history that does not record the pressure that Robson resisted that would have had him take the ageing Trevor Francis over Beardsley nor does it recall how and why Robson arrived on his pairing of the two, of deploying the uniquely useful Steve Hodge to do the running with Glenn Hoddle did not.

Robson – Sir Bobby – found his team after two games because his plans had to change.

Four years later Robson was a dead man walking. He had handed in his resignation from England and in the run up to the finals had been exposed as having an affair. Euro 88 had been woeful with England losing all three games and the pressure had told on the England manager.

The opening game saw Gary Lineker give England a good start with a scruffy goal but Jack Charlton’s Irish side ground the game down into an unattractive slug fest in a nasty wind and the game finished 1-1. A week later and during a 0-0 draw with Holland which saw England put in a good display also saw Bryan Robson once again be injured out a tournament.

The quality of that Dutch performance is understated and a strike from Stuart Pearce bulged the goal but was ruled out for being struck from an indirect free kick but there was a confidence that came from that display in 1990 which can not be said to be here in 2010.

Nevertheless there are three commonalities. Firstly that England had two draws in the group from the first two games and secondly that neither Robson nor Capello’s side had been behind at any point. Lineker and Steven Gerrard gave leads which were pulled back in the first games before goalless draws in the second.

Thirdly after two games – and to use a phrase which became popularised after the semi-final which resulted – the players went to the manager and “had a word

The England players had decided that the team – as it was – lacked fluidity being a 442 with Peter Shilton in behind Paul Parker, Terry Butcher, Des Walker and Pearce; Paul Gascoigne and Steve McMahon partnered in the middle of flank pair John Barnes and Chris Waddle; Lineker and Beardsley up front. They told Robson that they wanted to move to a three at the back formation – adding Mark Wright – which would allow Parker and Pearce more freedom.

The machinations of the change are lost in football history. Butcher was injured when Wright played and scored against Eygpt but by the time the second round make with Belgium took place and David Platt scored his king-making late goal England had switched formation away from Robson’s choice to what the players wanted. That flexibility proved the making from the man to the legend.

England’s players enjoy a full and frank discussion with Fabio Capello enjoying the full public backing of his captain John Terry – who we recall got nothing of the sort from his International manager – who it is said are keen to see the Italian change from the 442 which has brought him so many honours to a 433 that includes Joe Cole on the left of a three up front.

It remains to be seen the results of such a suggestion. Sir Bobby Robson was able to be flexible to the needs of the matches ahead of him and the demands of the squad and in letting the players make the decision for him he signed over an ownership of the team to them. Invested in the selection perhaps Robson made the result matter more to his players because they felt more of an authorship of the team.

Perhaps the spirit of Sir Bobby – involved in advertising this World Cup – comes in the manager handing over some responsibilities inside the camp to his players? Capello’s high-handedness is a long way from that put very much what was wanted after “Stevie and Frank” and the regime of McLaren which was seen as too close to the players. Often the solution to the last problem becomes the current problem.

Indeed it remains to be seen how these first two games of the 2010 World Cup will be recalled. Portugal and Marocco, Ireland and Holland are but footnotes in bigger stories and it is not so much the result of the meeting, but the match on Wednesday and any that follow it which will dictate how Capello’s story is to be told.

Capello contemplates his choice of headlines

If the world laughed at the New York Post’s headline of USA Win 1-1 then one wonders what it will make of the booing, the dressing room invasions and the paraphrasing of Churchill that has come following England’s failure to beat Algeria?

Perhaps it was Wayne Rooney’s questioning of the booing as not being loyal support which has seen the morning newspapers give the nation’s side an easier ride than perhaps expected. A collective breath taken by editors who realise that having spent the best part of two months talking about how committed to the English cause they are Rooney is right to say that turning on the team at this stage is no definition of loyal support.

The agitator-in-chief The Sun opted for a photograph of a few of the players with the the phrase “Never in the field of World Cup conflict has so little been offered to so many” and there is – for once – some merit in the statement. England’s players stand accused of offering little, of performing poorly, of not achieving and while the counter to that – that the support was not up to much either – might be true the inter-relationship between the one and the other mitigates neither.

The French – who lost rather than drew and have not the luxury of a fate in their own hands as England do – woke up to the quote as headline too “Va te faire enculer sale fils de pute” in L’Equipe over a photograph of Raymond Domenech being talked to by Nicolas Anelka which translated includes some of the words that Zidane reacted to so badly in the last World Cup final and serves to put a further nail in the coach’s coffin and see Anelka sent home.

The German Kicker seemed less upset with the 1-0 defeat to the Serbs with the headline Deutschland Katerland which either means Germany Are Tomcats or more likely Germany’s Hangover. Perhaps there is a correlation between strength of the rebuke for the former two nations and the relaxed nature of the third that ties to the carefree opening performance of German and the stolid, disjointed nature of the French and English.

Certainly Capello – not enjoying his 64th birthday over much – is mystified by the way his team fails to mesh suggesting that perhaps the pressure of playing in the World Cup finals gets to his players turning Rooney from the best player in the World to a pedestrian in the side. There is much sports psychology which would agree that the fear of failure is the most significant cause of failure.

Mental problems though are the very stuff of international football management. A dozen sides are equally good enough to win yet only one does and it is a combination of luck and belief which selects that side. Fabio Capello has had none of the former but seems to have built little of the latter although it is worth noting that the two best performances for England came from two players the Italian had publicly thrown full weight behind: Jamie Carragher and David James.

Belief is a problem as are selection and formation. Capello has not addressed the recurrent problem with Frank Lampard’s positioning that sees the Chelsea man undisciplined and too ready to wander away from his duties. Perhaps Lampard has been detailed by the previous three England managers who wander away from his midfield team mate and is simply disciplined to a different role but that role clearly works less well and England are more effective when they have and hold possession in the midfield. Lampard’s arriving late in the box gets in the way of Rooney’s dropping off and there is room for only one in the side.

That Capello has inherited this problem from the timid Steve McLaren and not solved it is surprisingly ineffectual for a manager of his standing in the game and perhaps suggests an issue not with how well Capello knows football – that is not under debate – but how well he knows English football. The England manager is seen at a Premiership game most weekends which compares with Sven-Goran Eriksson who would often watch three matches and then catch some games during the week. Eriksson was brought up on English football, McLaren had played in the league but one has to wonder how well Capello knows his players and the strengths and limitations of them.

The manager has moved from club to club playing his 442 and winning trophies and the English game is built in tribute to that formation. England have the players to play it more effectively in the country and in the squad but to do that Capello must know his squad better and realise – even at this late state – which of them can be used in his desired framework and which cannot be.

This may mean he makes some headlines for dropping the very successful Frank Lampard but the alternative – one fears – is that the headline writers will have something far more damning and far worse to write about when England exit.

The Prediction Plague

Much of the maladies of the modern media can be put down to a move from reporting events as news to doing it as preview and prediction.

This is true in all spheres of life – I didn’t vote for Dave or Nick but I’m at least prepared until they do something I don’t care for before getting annoyed at them – and especially true in football that talking about a thing that may happen is given the same breath as talking about something that has.

So as we stand on the eve of the kick off if the 2010 World Cup there is barely an element of the next four weeks that is not speculated on.

The performance of various teams for sure is a subject as is the behaviour of Referees, the organisation of matches, the quality of football, the flight of the ball and the after effect on the host country.

Some interesting, others not, but surely not a problem. Prediction, aside from in gambling, never caused much of a problem.

It seems that prediction, which was once the province of the pundit, is the stock in trade of the watercooler and everyone is fulsome in their opinion.

Where once a confident Cloughie would talk of events to come as if he were recalling the past now everyone relates the future as if it were past events. From Rodney Marsh and his damnation of City in the Premiership to that bloke Roger who wants to tell you England will be knocked out in the quarter finals and that you can’t look past Germany everyone seems to want to tell you what will happen, rather than telling you what they thought about what has.

As an example consider Joe Colbeck the ginger haired right winger who divided opinions for City for a few years. Those who had decided that Joe would never make it as a professional football heaped abuse on him in games. Science has a law about it – the act of observation changes the result – but in common parlance they tried to nobble him.

Which is to hit on the problem with prediction in that the predictor too often attempts to ensure that what they have said comes to pass, or at least seems to.

So football writers who dismiss Emile Heskey devote column inches since his selection to talk about what a bad decision it was rather than waiting for the outcome of that selection and reporting.

In that reporting too one can often – when reading the back pages or the front – wonder if an even hand is given or if the agenda supported is to ensure the prediction appears to be right unless proved manifestly wrong.

One has to wonder what the point of prediction that England will lose in the quarters are or that Spain will win the World Cup. These things will be evidenced in short order.

There is a chap – nice chap – who sits in front of me at Valley Parade who confidently declares “Its in” whenever the opposition put a cross into City’s box. Should the ball be converted he will nod and grimly state “Told you” but should – as most often occurs – the ball be cleared he will not confirm his mistake nor acknowledge it. It is harmless enough but also pointless enough the only real analysis being that sometimes the ball goes in and sometimes it does not.

Pick any of the teams kicking off in South Africa this week and one could say the same. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t but being wise after the fact if a prediction is correct – particularly a negative prediction that something will not happen rather than something will – is hardly impressive.

I could predict that Spain will not win the World Cup but considering how infrequent wins are and the fact 31 other teams are trying to it is probable that they will not. I could predict that Peter Taylor will leave Bradford City without the club having been promoted and considering that of the club’s near 100 seasons of play only eight of them have resulted in elevation I’d be favoured by probability that I would be correct.

Predicting negatively – saying what will not happen – has never impressed me and I predict it never will.

If predicting what will not is easy then saying what will is guess work and one easily becomes the guy warning if crosses coming into the box. Often one is proved right in the fullness of time but only because eventually all things happen. My brother is keen to point out that for the one time he was wring about Southampton being relegated from the top flight he had been accurate in saying they would not many times previously.

Me, I prefer to wait and see for England, for the other nations and for City. Reporting on what has happened is analysis, saying what will is guess work.

It is astrology vs astronomy. I could tell you, fear reader, that I see a last four if England, The Dutch, Brazil and Ivory Coast and that with gun to my head I’d say Holland but I’d much rather talk about why those guesses are proved wrong – should they be – than take credit for sooth saying if they are right.

Disillusioned

The World Cup evokes so many happy (and not so happy) memories. Some of my first memories are from the 1982 tournament hosted in Spain. I collected the Panini stickers, remember Bryan Robson (who’d have thought that he’d go on to manage Bradford City?) scoring inside the opening minute against France, my dad telling me that the hosts had been beaten by Northern Ireland, David Narey scoring a belter against Brazil (although Scotland still lost to Brazil) and Italy beating Brazil in an absolute classic game.

Roll on four years to Mexico 1986. England make an awful start and only qualify for the second round following an inspired performance by Peter Beardsley against Poland. Most people will tell you that it was Lineker’s hat-trick against Poland that got us past the first round but Beardsley was superb against Poland. Then we all remember Maradona’s hand of God goal and his amazing goal verses England in the quarter finals.

For me, Italia 1990 brings back the best World Cup memories; probably because we progressed to the semi finals but also because I’d finished my A-levels that year and the summer of 1990 was carefree. I have vivid memories of half dozen school mates piling round to one of my parent’s mates house (I still attend Bradford City games with him after all these years) to watch the second round game verses Belgium. What a nerve wrecker – there we were expecting penalties when up steps Gascoigne and that now famous commentary “…and chipped in and volleyed in and it’s there by David Platt, and England have done it in the last minute of extra time!” Superb! There we all were in a wild heap on the floor hugging each other whilst Waddle (who’d have thought that he’d go on and play for Bradford City?) and Butcher did a dance on the pitch. Then we had Lineker’s two penalties to squeeze past Cameroon in the quarter finals before Pearce and Waddle failed to score against West Germany in the penalty shoot in the semi finals. And all of this backed by, in my opinion, the greatest football anthem “World in Motion” by New Order.

Obviously England didn’t qualify for USA 1994 but I’m sure that we all remember Michael Owen’s wonder goal against Argentina in France 1998 and Beckham’s penalty in the 2002 World Cup to gain sweet revenge against Argentina following his sending off in France 1998 against the same team.

Lots of people are excited about the prospect of the 2010 World Cup commencing this Friday with the hosts South Africa entertaining Mexico in the opening game of the tournament. However, at the moment the prospect of the World Cup isn’t sending me into waves of emotion at all. (My wife thinks that I’m ill.)

Why is this?

  1. I’m completely disillusioned with Capello and his team selection. Why did he not pick a naturally left sided midfielder in his 23 man squad? We’ve experienced it before when the left side of midfield has been a problematic position for England. It’s a shame that we don’t have a Waddle or a Barnes. If Capello thinks that he can play Lampard and Gerrard in central midfield together, it won’t win us the World Cup. Erikkson tried the two of them together and it didn’t work then. I hope that I’m wrong about Capello but I don’t think that we will win the World Cup in South Africa. I think that it was Mike Ingham whilst commentating on the recent friendly game against Mexico who said something along the lines of “In Little Britain style, I don’t like it” when referring to Gerrard playing on the left side of midfield.
  2. I’m fed up with players being over paid. Infact, Deloitte has produced a report which shows that Premier League clubs spent £1.3bn on players wages during the 2008/2009 season. This is shocking. I also believe that some players have the wrong attitude and are too arrogant including some of the 23 players who have been picked to play for England in South Africa.
  3. Every advert, whether it’s on television or radio, at the moment is based around football. It drives me crackers.
  4. The hype that surrounds the whole tournament. It’s like Christmas with the event being “bigged up” months before the actual event. It’s all to do with money and is so commercial. The romance seems to be draining away from what is meant to be the biggest and greatest sporting event on earth.

I’m sounding like Victor Meldrew; a grumpy old man. Hopefully, when the tournament finally begins, my cynicism will disappear and my emotions will kick in. But for now, the most important day during the World Cup is 17 June when Bradford City’s fixtures come out and we can plan our trip to the Lamex Stadium!

The problem with John Terry and the England captain

I don’t know the number of people who want John Terry removing as England captain and how that has increased since the confirmation that he might be – well – a bit of a git but I’m not one of them.

That is not because I think that Tezza and his wandering eye should be forgiven for his antics that seem set to lead to Wayne Bridge pulling out of his England role of being a reserve to Ashley Cole. It was that role Bridge perfected at Chelsea and one struggles to recall any player who has ever so clearly put being paid over being played. 129 games in the last seven years is a waste of a career and the fact that he has yet to play more games for the clubs who offered him the big money to leave Southampton than he did for the Saints is a damning statistic.

Bridge’s level of ambition aside it is not that Terry’s behaviour should be forgiven it is that I would never have picked him for the England captaincy in the first place. Steven Gerrard is a man who leads on the field, he near single handled won the European Cup one season and to me always seemed an outstanding candidate.

That said Gerrard was involved in a brawl in a bar and while he was cleared of any wrong doing legally had he been England captain would he have been called to account for the company he kept and the fact he was out drinking until the wee small hours? Others talk about Wayne Rooney as a potential England captain. If he had the job would he be required to curb his on field emotional outbursts to stay within the remit of skipper?

The problem with Terry’s role and the position of England captain in general – the position that Red Tops are calling for Terry to lose – is that for all the decrying over how poorly the Chelsea man represents the country neither Terry, England boss Fabio Cappello or the bosses at The FA could point to a job description for the position.

Naturally on a personal level we can all come up with a list of what we consider the most important things for the armband wearer to have and probably the vast majority of them would not include sharking on team mate’s better halves but there is no set of guidelines – as far as we know it – which the FA can point JT at and give him a cast iron reason why he should lose the position.

Should such a job description exist then the same people who are calling for Terry to be hoisted by the yard arm – The Red Tops – would have been the people who when David Beckham was England skipper would have been saying that the position should be all about the results on the field and the winning mentality within the dressing room and nothing about the personalities outside it.

As with the use of nameless “sources close to” Terry while objecting to super-injunctions the media are perfectly prepared to indulge in any double standard to sell newspapers.

Bradford City have had four captains this year: Peter Thorne, Zesh Rehman, Michael Flynn and – on Saturday – Simon Ramsden and most City fans have an idea of who they believe is best suited to the role although it might be worth noting that in Saturday’s 2-1 comeback all four were on the field when the goals went in.

In football leaders are Heaven sent while captains are often titular. Short of putting a rag in Stuart McCall’s mouth Rangers could not have stopped him showing the same leadership he did at City even though other players had the armband. Good teams have many people who are prepared to lead and taking the captain’s role from John Terry will not stop that ability coming through on the field.

Moving forward one suspects that despite the furore of the weekend this story is a seven day wonder and by the time South Africa comes around England will have largely filed John Terry and Wayne Bridge alongside the Steven Gerrard scrap, the Frank Lampard radio phone in and numerous other Earth shattering events that are supposed to have forced action from the national squad but in retrospect hardly wobbled the needle on a Richter Counter.

Moving forward – and before anyone else is given the armband and named England captain – it might be worth a set of guidelines emerging as to what the requirements of an England captain are and what is considered to be outside that remit. If the job is about representing the nation then why remove Beckham from the job? If it is about results then why even discuss Terry’s future?

Until a set of criteria exists that the occupant of the position has to work within then we are going to forever be trying the Captain accused in Kangaroo courts, deciding on an ad hoc basis what we want the job to be.

Waiting for the summer with a confidence as City face Burton Albion

“Well that’s the Summer sorted” I said to the wife with the prospect of the four yearly month off work after England’s 5-1 win secured a place in the World Cup Finals next June.

England’s progression has been remarkable for the rapidity of the turn around from two years ago and the infamous Wally With The Brolly to Wednesday night’s Italian elan and The Man With The Plan.

The management style between the two evenings marks a contrast more than the players involved who by in large are the same bunch and one must be wary to not undersell Cappello’s perfectionist approach but attitude divides the England of two years ago and the team from last night.

Attitude and confidence that started to grow not at Wembley where tabloid journalists unimpressed with the England manager’s aloofness ho-hummed about the appointment but in Croatia when a 4-1 win spoke eloquently for the manager and his players.

It has taken two, four, maybe seven years and Seaman’s swipe in the saucy Swede‘s side to turn opinions around on England but turned they have been and that more even than getting Frank Lampard Jnr and Steve Gerrard into the same side is Cappello’s achievement.

One recalls April 2002 in the months after another 5-1 England win a newspaper story breaking and copy about “the ice cool Swede” who can do no wrong being rewritten. The rise and fall of Roman Empires has precedent.

Far away in a field in Cheltenham not years but weeks ago – club football’s inexorable pace is it’s main difference to the International game – a team ran onto the field with confidence at a lowest ebb to a point where few could see it scoring and not conceding many.

That was Bradford City three weeks ago and four wins ago and while Stuart McCall never sheltered under an umbrella he was a long way from Fabio. Following a 2-1 win at Shrewsbury in which all say that City rode their luck massively the Bantams manager seems to have a turned the same bunch of players into a winning machine that is protected even by fortune.

Four wins on McCall and all – including his supporters in the now muted argument over his abilities – would do well to recall Sir Bobby Robson’s epitaph raised on opening day. You are never as bad or as good as you think you are.

City play with confidence though and McCall has been quick to underline the importance of that throughout his team and especially in young keeper “There’s only one” Simon Eastwood who has begun to rise to his reputation with a string of excellent saves at Shrewsbury despite a heavy whack on the shin that threatens to keep him out and sees Jon McLaughin ready to take the gloves up.

McCall’s faith in Eastwood is being rewarded while his confidence in bringing in Simon Ramsden is reaping benefits with some dubbing the right back brought from Rochdale as Stuart’s Best Signing. He provides a high watermark and good example for Luke O’Brien to follow as the young left back learns about second season and the transition from prospect to player.

Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams are not an unbreakable partnership but are roughly building an understanding.

McCall had – like Cappello – a nominal and a practical formation with a list of players as read out being more of a rough starting point rather than a rigid tactic.

So the midfield will probably read Neilson, J O’Brien, Bullock, Flynn but the make up will see Lee Bullock falling back into a more central, protecting role with James O’Brien and Michael Flynn tasked with traditional box to box play leaving the line up a tad one sided with Flynn tight on the left compared to the width on offer from Scott Neilson who makes his first start at home in the Bantams first game at Valley Parade since the departure of Joe Colbeck.

Steven Gerrard said of Fabio’s England that the players enjoyed the experience more now than they did previously when the crowd was on some player’s backs and so one wonders what the effect of not having Colbeck will be.

I believe the player is talented but the disruptive influence he had by virtue of the schism of opinion was clear for all. That removed will the 11,000 at Valley Parade be more of one voice? It eludes me why any City fan wanted Colbeck to fail but it seems sure that none would want the same for his replacement Neilson and perhaps that positivism will make itself felt on the field.

Neilson is part of a group at City that includes Gareth Evans, James Hanson, Luke O’Brien and Steve Williams who can best be dubbed “the want-to-do-well boys” who see their not inconsiderable work put in rewarded by a matching of longing of supporters. These are young players who have won hearts and minds in a way Colbeck, Tom Penford, Danny Forrest and Craig Bentham did not and rather than question why this is the case let us celebrate the fact it is.

Evans and Hanson will start with Peter Thorne injured and Michael Boulding in a similar state although closer to fitness. Boulding is the picture book opposite to the want to win boys seemingly having talent over effort that see him sidelined and Evans in his role. Hanson leads the line and never loses a header for the want of effort.

Burton Albion are new to the league but not to City who had Gary Robson’s arse to thank for an early rounds of the FA Cup win back in 1996. They were managed by Nigel Clough for nearly a decade before Son of Brain went to Derby County and as such represent a team which has benefited from patience in a manager who has built a structure which new gaffer Paul Pechisolido reaps the rewards from with a good start that includes a 1-1 at Notts County.

Sitting above City a fifth win on the spin for the Bantams would see the clubs flip positions but early season renders that meaningless and McCall and all will be more concerned with rebuilding the hard fought for good home record if six months of last season.

Home form brings confidence and running that confidence through the season is of paramount importance should a promotion bid be staged.

Run that confidence into the summer and who knows what could happen.

Maintaining consistency – Bradford City vs Exeter City – League Two Preview 2008/2009

Consistency (con-sis-ten-cy)
noun for use in Professional Football
1 personal: To maintain outstanding levels of performance over the length of a career.
2 for a team: To win all the time without fail except – maybe – when playing Brazil.

The word of the week in seven days that have seen England revert to heroes from zeros and heard Mark Lawn tell all that Omar Daley has a release clause in his contract is been this football specific variation on consistency.

For England – as with all football teams – consistency is defined by winning every game in emphatic style. A subnote in the thrashing of Croatia was that the national side needed more of the C word which stuck one as odd considering that a consensus seemed to have emerged that the Three Lions played badly all the time.

Derby County were consistent last season in the Premiership – they got beat all the time – but that is never what is meant in the football world.

Likewise when players are called on to be consistent very few people are suggesting that they maintain average levels of performance week in, week out. Omar Daley’s work on the left wing in the first seven games of the season has been impressive to say the least and now there are calls for the Jamaican winger to be “consistent”.

Since his arrival in England at Preston then Reading and during his Bradford City career Daley has been the very model of inconsistency veering between the unplayable for defenders to the unplayable for managers and he has enjoyed these patches of blistering form that justify his games in the wilderness. These variations seem to be the nature of the beast and probably have as much to do with the size and agility of the full backs, the widths of pitches and the service of team mates as they do Omar’s attitude which is oft and justifiably criticised.

Nevertheless the calls for a consistent Omar are decoded as a request for the winger to continue his mesmerising play at least until Christmas when he can be sold to the Championship and Chris Brandon might be fit to replace him.

Brandon’s injury in a reserves win over Scunthorpe means he will not be making his long overdue Bradford City debut in the weekend tie with Exeter City and stays on the sidelines supporting the team he has always supported. Brandon no doubt appreciates what he is watching as much as the rest of the City fans. Being injured is no fun for any footballer but the pain of not playing on Saturday must be eased by seeing the side you should be in winning games.

Winning ways were re-established last weekend at Port Vale with Peter Thorne returning to scoring ways. Thorne speaks highly of his partnership with Michael Boulding which will continue when City face Exeter.

Another partnership that thrives is Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren who have worked out teething problems to build solidity. The challenge of playing at home against teams who pack defences has broken more midfield duos on the slide from grace than we – or Chris Brandon – care to recall but this pairing seem to enjoy holding the ball more than most which works well with the four other forward players attempts to make runs and find positions. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley make those runs on the wings once more.

The back four continues to pick itself with the two Pauls Arnison and Heckingbottom at full back and Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee in the middle. Rhys Evans has a clean sheet to build on from Port Vale.

All of which is consistency of a sort – how often has City’s one to eleven been so easy to name? – but the consistency City fans are hoping for is that definition of continued victory.

Exeter City – recently returning to the Football League – stand in the way. They have had an inconsistent start to the season losing three times at home but being unbeaten on their travels. They recorded a first win agianst Accrington Stanley last weekend and their promotion from the Conference last season gained them a reputation as hard to beat.

Nevertheless beat them City must – if only to maintain consistency.

England is mine, excitement my riposte

As far as England wins go the 4-1 duffing of Croatia was one of the more satisfying and Fabio Capello’s telling comment after – “This is the start” – suggested a dawning of kinds for England.

Of course we are constantly told – and will be told again – that England is the country of footballing false dawns and that while a win for the three lions last night is appreciated it is really just a tease – a set up – for failure to come.

Which in a way is true because having an exclusive set of winners numbering less than 1/25th of the entrants the likelihood of anyone starting on the road to winning the World Cup actually winning the thing is slight. As well as England play there is always the propensity that we may come up against another top class side who are on top of their game and not progress. I think they call this quarter-final heartbreak in the print media.

The print media now clouds talking about the England national side to such an extent that results are now less important than good publicity. The printed media in the country long stepped over a line that their remit dictates that they should report the news but not get involved in it and now they procrastinate at how 4-1 takes the pressure off Capello as if it were not pressure they were applying.

They cloud everything about the England team losing sight of the heart of the game – the quickening of the pulse when Walcott fired across the Croat goalkeeper, the fury of seeing Joe Cole poleaxed – and muddy the reason any of us would be interested in the first place.

The last time England lost in Zagreb I had been invited to select my eleven for the game and did so using Scott Parker and Gareth Barry as a midfield. I was told by someone who dreamed of putting Rooney in that mythical “hole” which I have yet to see on a football field that should I pick that side I would be slaughtered by the press. “Yes,” I replied, “but I’d win matches.”

So used are England supporters of looking at the team through the prism of its coverage – or in the case of games being hidden away on pay-per-view channels the lack of coverage – that we have on the whole forgotten the raison d’être of the game. The excitement is the thing. Always has been, always will be.

The notions that success and failure can only be judged on winning a World Cup or a European Championship is something that needs to be addressed. We should reject the notion that we are too stupid to understand if a team is or has not playing well unless we can see its name on a list of tournament winners and reject those who pedal it.

More so than that though we should counter such arguments with a remembrance if the thrill of Theo Walcott lashing diagonally past the keeper after being set up by Rooney, of Michael Owen charging at the Argentina goal after a Beckham pass, of Bobby Moore stepping in to take the ball from the greatest player to ever pull on a shirt and kick a ball.

England is mine and I’m not ready to give up that excitement.

Square pegs, round holes

So yet another England international passes us by and we hear journalists and pundits asking that old chestnut of a question: “Why are we playing with a naturally right footed player on the left side of midfield?” Steven Gerrard occupied the left sided position this time to accommodate Frank Lampard in a central midfield position with Gareth Barry along side Lampard with David Beckham on the right hand side. Previously Steve McClaren had been slated by the press for England not qualifying for Euro 2008 but what about Capello and his tactical decisions and team formations?

From what I witnessed last night on the ITV highlights show, Capello picked a starting 11 very similar to what McClaren would have chosen if he was still England manager. So then we hear Tony Adams and Andy Townsend mulling over England’s starting midfield players with square pegs and round holes muttered.

I believe that as long as the England manager picks the supposedly best 11 individuals rather than the player who is best for a certain position we will win nothing.

It’s been discussed plenty of times before and I’m sure that it will do so again in the future. Why do England managers have to accommodate both Gerrard and Lampard in midfield? Whilst they are both quality players we have seen over several years now that they can’t play in the same midfield. Why not pick Stewart Downing as the left sided midfield player? Is it because he plays his club football for Middlesbrough who are perceived as a smaller club in the Premiership?

Anyway, whilst I’m bothered about how England perform I’m more bothered how Bradford City are performing. Which got me thinking; has Stuart McCall got a similar dilemma to Mr Capello?

In Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley we have two good right sided midfield players so how does Stuart accommodate them both in the starting 11? Answer: he is currently operating with one of them on the left side of midfield. Is this a good thing? Only time will tell. What about Kyle Nix? Personally, I believe that we look like a more balanced team when Nix operates on the left with either Colbeck or Daley on the right. Similar occurrences can happen in defence when you get a team playing a left footed player at right back or vice versa.

This isn’t a new problem that has faced football managers and it will always occur. Supporters often talk about successful teams having balance and partnerships. For me, City have looked a better team when we’ve had a balanced midfield with the likes of Paul Showler, Mark Stuart or Peter Beagrie playing on the left side of midfield. As for this season, we will just have to wait and see who McCall picks as his left sided midfielder.

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