Carl McHugh and contextual positioning

The more I watch football the more I am convinced that the game is more about character than it is about positions.

That prefaces the following statement: that I do not know if positions are everything or nothing in football. I veer from one conclusion to the other.

When I was a younger man positions were simple. Goalie, right backs, left wingers and so on. It was easy to look at the teams of the 1970s and put a man in a hole.

Easy but wrong. Because there was an increasingly level of subtlety to those positions. You can blame Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley if you wish. In Mexico in 1986 they played up front together for England and by no means were they both just “strikers”.

And so terms like “drop off man”, “goalgetter” and “in the hole” started and those are functional but following them as a train of thought takes you to a conclusions which is that in describing the positions in which Lineker and Beardsley played one was actually describing the tasks they performed.

Which rendered the need to talk about positions obsolete. There was a task to do on a football field of getting the ball in the area between the defensive line and the midfield and that was what Beardsley did. That he did it from “attack” rather than “midfield” is largely irrelevant because on the whole he was spending his time in that position.

Add David Platt to the England team following Beardsley’s (premature) exit and you have a player in the same position who is titularly a midfielder not a forward. Have Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard Jnr in your team and it may say that one is a striker and one is a midfielder in the Panini sticker album but both are spending 90 minutes in the same square footage of the field. That is a problem that England never mastered.

And so these tasks became described as roles which and the notion of positions was refined with more granularity. Words like “holding midfielder” came into the lexicon of the modern football supporter and that was no bad thing.

But the more that tasks were named the less importance on the fact that those tasks needed to be carried out was obvious. Someone needs to win a ball back in midfield and that is described as a “holding job” and rapidly came to seem like an option rather than a necessity.

Which is where I veer. If described in enough granularity positions are everything in football. If thrown around they are meaningless and ignore the importance of the tasks that need to be performed.

Wayne Jacobs talks about Phil Parkinson’s use of Carl McHugh and Matthew Bates at left back and does so with an authority. “Matthew’s right-footed and that causes a problem when you try to link up and get down the left wing. He is obviously tempted to drive infield. I’ve been really impressed with Carl’s attitude… however he is a centre half and sometimes if you come up against a real out-and-out winger, agility and movement can be an issue when you’re playing in that role.”

Which was obvious when McHugh faced Jamie Murphy of Sheffield United who exposed those flaws in his game away at the Blades. At home to Port Vale and MK Dons had wide players who pressed less and were happy to contain. This let McHugh perform a different set of tasks, ones he was more comfortable with, and thus did better at. From that we might conclude that the statement “he can play left back” is – in some way – contextual.

Beckham wins the World Cup

It was always though that during his career David Beckham would get his hands on the World Cup and today – as he lobbies delegates who will make the decision on England’s bid to host the 2018 competition of what is a very curious decision process – it seems that he may do.

Not – perhaps – something that will make up for the 2006 German summer where so much came to so little or the broken metatarsal in Japan in 2002 which saw England run out of steam against Brazil but an end to a career which may not have redefined football, but has certainly redefined footballers.

Beckham has been the poster boy for many things – Adidas, Sharpie, the 2018 bid – and all along his career he has been sighted as part of the over paid generation of footballers. Guilty often of little more than having a family and not being the sharpest tool in the box he has – as a player and as a personality – make a mountain out of his mount of talents and is as sinned against often as he is sinning.

His red card against Argentina was hardly the stuff of violent conduct, his early career exit from the England side hampered Steve McLaren’s side far more than it did the former captain’s career. His wife annoys a lot of people and his kids have curious names but he comes over with a certain charm and uses that charm to promote the campaign to host 2018 which we should all be behind.

So at some point tomorrow Beckham’s career might have the glorious conclusion suggested all along but Beckham is but the first of the multi-millionaire player to start the sail into the sunset.

If one assumes a player might have a dozen years playing on the sort of big Premier League contracts that the likes of Frank Lampard, Keiron Dyer, Steven Gerrard have – and we read on BfB about Graeme Tomlinson and how he was advised to and looked after his money – then we may start to see players exiting the game who could have earned the thick end of thirty million pounds.

(£50,000 a week, multiply by 52 weeks a year, multiple by 12 and offset the idea of tax and living expenses against the income from investments)

Once a footballer might use his earnings to buy a pub running it for the next thirty years. Robbie Fowler used the money Leeds threw at him to become one of the biggest landlords in Liverpool offering decent housing at good rents. Few players are as in touch with the community they rose from as Fowler.

There have been the odd player who went to the boardroom – Steve McMahon, Derek Doogan, Jimmy Hill, Ray Ranson – they have done so as parts of consortia but with the levels of money being given to players by clubs that need not always be the case.

At the conclusion of his Liverpool contract Steven Gerrard (who would be 34, I believe) could – if he wanted to – wander over the Mersey to Tranmere and easily buy the club lock, stock and barrel. There would be nothing to stop him signing himself to play in midfield either, or making himself manager. A footballing version of the auteur.

Likewise the likes of Frank Lampard could bankroll any League Two club out of the division (if we judge by Notts County’s example last season) and probably (if we look at Dean Hoyle at Huddersfield) challenge for promotion in the league above.

Football people leaving football with a chunk of money and almost anything to spend it on, it seems inevitable that they will come back to what they know and end up back involved in football. A generation of players who don’t have to take coaching badges and then beg the odd fishmonger from Grimsby for a job at the local club. They can give the fishmonger what he wants and buy the boardroom for himself.

Beckham can cap his career tomorrow but he – and the generation he spearheads – may end up with an impact in the game far beyond the day they last pull on their boots.

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.

Usain Bolt, Omar Daley, Fabio Capello and Bradford City

I do not really know who Shawn Crawford is and I’ve never heard of Walter Dix. I confess too with a shameful lack of patriotism that I’d not really heard of Christian Malcolm until yesterday. I know who Usain Bolt is.

Usain Bolt – the man who makes Omar Daley look sluggish – won the 200m in Beijing with the sort of performance which would make his competitors wonder if they were engaged in the same race as him. His eight foot stride bounded him past and away from the seven other athletes who could just watch him win.

Such clarity of victory, such obvious excellence, is rare.

Bolt’s win caused celebrations in the streets of Kingston not seen since the national football side scored at the World Cup in 1998. One can bet too that Omar Daley was on his feet and he probably wondered by Bolt’s now famous languid arms out celebration is not dubbed “lazy”. One hopes Daley can feel motivated by his country man’s success and certainly it will be interesting to see which of Saturday’s goalscorers pay tribute to the World’s fastest man in celebration.

However, unlike Bolt, Daley is not the master of his own destiny. Football – in its beauty – tests all skills, not one and while if he could finish a bowl of Corn Flakes I’m sure someone would – and will – give Bolt a go as a striker it is a combination of skills including sprinting that is required to excel and that combination must be used alongside others doing the same.

Not that one could say that about Fabio Capello’s England side as they achieved the not easy task of being utterly thrashed 2-2.

Capello’s continuation of the policy of forcing the most talented midfield player we have – Steven Gerrard – to drift away from position to accommodate Frank Lampard Jnr has seen him fall foul of that oldest of accusations for the man in his chair. That the national side are less than the sum of their parts.

Coverage of the England national team has overtaken the results as a barometer of performance and the doublethink required to say that the Czechs are a great team of players – such as Petr Cech – who light up the Premier League while simultaneously holding that England should easily beat them is astounding.

One would think that the dominance of an Usain Bolt was common in sport – certainly England are expected to show it – rather than scarce and that when faced with Bolt’s powerful performance all the other competitors simply have to decide to run quicker to beat him. “Get a move on Malcolm,” the shout would go, “Get your arse into gear and run. Lazy Malcolm!”

Athletics, Football and to be honest most other things are multi-polar and when Usain Bolt runs as well as Usain Bolt can, then how do you catch him? When Brazil are on top of their game, how do you win the World Cup? There is the long held belief that should England “get it right” then 1966 Mark II will follow but what if we come up against the Usain Bolt of football in a quarter final game? No matter how “right” we get things – and Capello will know that it must be more right than last night – we are always subject to someone else getting it “righter”.

Bradford City are held to a similar yard stick to Capello’s charges – they are expected to win regardless of the opposition’s quality – but are seen by some – including Rochdale boss Keith Hill – as the Usain Bolt of League Two able to stretch long legs and stride away from the rest of the clubs should the application of our abilities be correct.

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