Millwall, Yeovil Town, Chelsea and the most important thing in life

Before we begin

Ask me who I think the best manager is I say Brian Clough. Ask me who my favourite is I say Bobby Robson.

There are many reasons I have such high regard for the former England and Newcastle United manager and I am not alone in holding him in high esteem. The Brazilian Ronaldo was signed by Robson’s PSV aged seventeen and considered the manager a Second Father.

Robson brought a dignity to his football. When asked about Diego Maradona’s handball in 1986 he said only “Well, he knows he cheated”. When asked if he thought about what would have happened had his England side not lost on penalties to West Germany in 1990 his reply was a haunted “every day.”

When he watched his Newcastle United team beat Bradford City 4-3 and was asked about the poor defending on display he told the journalist who asked him that he has seen a brilliant game of football between two great teams and that he should go home to his family happy.

“That is what I’ll be doing.” he said.

Only one team in it

Shall we clarify how much of a favourite Millwall were presented as before the FA Cup Third Round. There was a chance of an upset at The New Den on the Saturday morning but when the game kicked off the media focus was elsewhere. The City game lurched back and forth with one team taking the lead, then the other. One wondered if there could be a cup tie giving more entertainment.

Two goals for Billy Knott and a couple of defenders struggling to cope with James Hanson who – if City lost – would probably have been the player sold in January to balance the books. The game seemed to matter.

At 3-2 with ten minutes on the clock it seemed that Bradford City would have something of an upset but Ricardo Fuller scored late and in the reply it was considered that City would have more of a chance.

Favourites now then. Valley Parade bustling after a successful campaign to hashtag-be-the-difference based on the anticipation of a fourth round trip which would take City to Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea.

Chelsea were and are top of the Premier League. It was anticipation. The chance to be against the best.

And then it began

And it was over very quickly.

The sixth minute dismissal of Mark Beevers was already against the run of plan. The Bantams had put in three corners before Andy Halliday put a ball forward to James Hanson who outpaced Mark Beevers. Beevers who pulled him back and the Referee did as they do.

Two minutes later Hanson was heading a flicked on corner in to suggest that City should start preparing for the trip to Chelsea. Ten minutes later and another ball in was loose in the box watched – watched – by three Millwall players. Jon Stead had time to cross oceans and acres to put the ball into the goal. He did.

The rest of the story, dear reader, you know. Halliday, then Knott again and Millwall ended up paying their supporters back for turning up.

And so we asked the question

Were Bradford City good or Millwall bad?

The question did not dare suggest itself until after Saturday’s trip to Yeovil Town. Millwall gave up but – it must be remembered – they gave having started from their position of strength in the first game.

When Lions manager Ian Holloway talks about how he has never seen a team collapse in that manner he excuses himself of amount of time which passed in which the advantage in the tie – not just the replay – past from South London to West Yorkshire.

That a team has a poor performance is almost always the result of a good display by the opposition. Bradford City had got into a habit of making games difficult for opposition sides from the divisions above in the League Cup. Make every free kick difficult, make every throw in prompt, run for every ball to make the defender run too, make every passage of play into something that presents a difficulty for the opposition.

Bradford, 2000

When Bradford City beat Chelsea 2-0 in the Premier League on Benito Carbone’s home debut the performance represented something of a high watermark.

I once saw David Wetherall – defender in that side – asked if he thought that City had only won because Chelsea were so bad that evening that they beat themselves. Wetherall could hardly understand the question and struggled to answer.

He mumbled “erm, not really.”

Bradford, 2015

As Millwall manager Ian Holloway kept his team in the dressing room for an hour following the game Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City side took the plaudits.

There was a crispness to how the playmaker midfield – abandoned of late but reasserting itself – worked with Billy Knott in the forward midfield position and all over the pitch players could be proud of great performances.

The pitch was covered with high watermark performances. Filipe Morais’ ability to find the rhythm for the inside midfield role as distinct to that played when on the wing seemed like a justification for his two and a half year contract. Morais is a more useful player than first he seemed and his ability to play simple football most often sets him apart from other players who show off tricks to try convince all that they are more useful footballers than they are.

Andy Halliday was praised for his steady work ethic. The back four for their solidity. When Alan Dunne throw James Hanson into a wall and goalkeeper David Forde punched Billy Knott in the face City were even praised for how they all stood together in the brawl that followed.

For City talk moved to a game with Chelsea of course, but also to play offs and possible promotion. By contrast Holloway was telling his charges that eight changes would be made for Saturday and a new captain would be appointed as they prepared for something like a slaughtering.

And that night I remembered my favourite maxim of Bobby Robson.

Having won European trophies with Ipswich Town, and having been knocked out without a win of Euro 88. He had taken England to semi-finals but been the subject of very personal criticism Robson had experienced enough of football to advise this:

“You are never as good, or as bad, as people tell you you are.”

Yeovil, 2015

Perhaps it was the idea that the club he was playing was selling tickets for another match on the day they faced his side but Yeovil Town manager Gary Johnson sense that his team which had not won since September would get something against City.

It was in the air.

The Bantams too light in the tackle perhaps fearing suspension, too slight in the challenge perhaps fearing injury. Or perhaps a ten minute game against Rochdale followed by a mid-week cup tie on a heavy Valley Parade pitch just took it out of the team. Either way City were a shadow.

Gozie Ugwu scored the only goal of the game and Parkinson will have been pleased with a second half where his team pressed more but City suffered a second league defeat in two. This one was against the team bottom of the league.

And so in an atmosphere of discontent over tickettng for the Chelsea game Parkinson’s side were driving back into ill temper.

Not good enough was the general tone and in fact not good. The unexpected high watermark was expected to be the new standard.

Here comes the fear

Chelsea manager José Mourinho described the game against Swansea City as “the perfect game

The Londoners were magnificent in putting five goals past Swansea City without reply. They have a fluidity in their forward four which one doubts Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle will have faced before and they have John Terry and Gary Cahill ready to go man for man with Hanson and Stead.

It would be a folly to suggest that Chelsea have all the ability by City have character because without character Chelsea would not be the top of the Premier League.

And they are top of the Premier League, and they are playing well.

Chelsea are playing the best football in the country at the moment and they have won every league game at Stamford Bridge this season.

One wonders what to expect next week in West London. One wonders what we will go home and tell the family.

Lisbon, 1992

When he was appointed Sporting Lisbon manager in 1992 Bobby Robson appointed José Mourinho – then a scout at another club – as his interpreter. Robson took Mourinho to Porto, and then to Barcelona.

When paying tribute to Robson following his death Mourinho said that Robson had told him the most important thing in life:

“You are never as good or as bad as people say you are.”

Blackpool near the right way of doing the Premier League

Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston is doing his job so well that he has offered to resign from the newly placed Premier League club.

You may recall the Oyston name from his Dad and the massive collapse the Seasiders had on an off the field when City beat them 3-0 in the play-offs in 1996. The son has been at the club since 1999 and seemed as surprised as anyone when Blackpool got to – and won – the play-off final finding themselves £90m richer and in the glare of the most watched football league in the world.

From that day to this Oyston has seen his stock drop to the point where he offered to resign charged from all sides with a failure to be able to bring in new faces to bolster Ian Holloway’s promoted squad. Indeed with the highly rated Seamas Coleman returning to Everton after a year at Bloomfield Road it is said that the Tangerines are the first club in the history of the Premier League to have an obviously weaker side than the one which saw them promoted.

Oyston’s issues are caused by a refusal to over pay for player, and to over pay players. The chairman vocalises a problem that Geoffrey Richmond also noted in his “King Canute” speech which denied Robbie Blake and Darren Moore five figure salaries but ended up offering such rewards to the ill-deserved collective of Bruno Rodriguez, Jorge Cadete, Ian Nolan, Peter Atherton and David Hopkin.

Oyston – it seems – will not be drawn into valuing what the club does not have more than what it does.

It’s been an eye-opener for us when we’re told by agents that their client wants to play in the Premier League, then they’ll go off and sign for a Championship club, but on more money.

One can almost see the idea forming from Richmond to Oyston through Derby County’s errors and Hull City’s problems that is almost fully formed. Oyston has the actions, but not the reasons. Put simply when a club in the position of Blackpool – or City – is promoted to the top division they should not make any Premier League signings.

Which is not to say that a promoted team should not try buy players – but they should be the same players who they would have signed were they not promoted. City – for example – were locked in bidding for players like David Wetherall with clubs from the league below. Indeed Paul Jewell missed out on signing Clyde Wijnhard because they were not able to match Huddersfield Town’s financial offer for the two players the defender opting for the top league, the striker for more money.

Make the same signings and say on the day that you are promoted that the players who took you to the top flight will keep you in the top flight. After all the Blackpool players have – in that play-off way – proved themselves better than the division below, why not assume they are good enough for this division.

The act of backing the players in such a public manner could – in itself – be decisive. There is much talk about money in football and money is not unimportant but ultimately the majority of money in football is wasted. Manchester City are the riches club in the world, but Manchester United are better and they are better because they have a manager who understands that the game is more mental than it is technical and games are won in the head before they can be won on the field.

Tell the players that you do not want to replace them with any Carlos Kickaball who’s agent has sent you a video, tell them they are your Premier League quality players and let that set of players grow into the roles. “Act as if ye have faith, and faith shall be given to you.

The price of failure – the relegation which could follow – comes with the sweetener that the money you got for going up has not drained away to players and can be used for genuine long term club growth. This summer – once again – one is forced to curse Richmond’s decision to spend money on Nolan, Atherton et al that could have paid for a training facility the club would be using today.

The benefits of success are multitude. Should the squad that some would have thrown away retain Premier League status then they will do so well rewarded no doubt but without the financial costs of recruitment and paying Premier League wages and they will have a connection to the club which comes from experience wearing the shirt. This is true in failure too. the illustration which showed how few games City’s players had played said much about the connection between fans and players.

Say to all that these are our players, the players we cheered to promotion, and build the belief in the squad that having earned their position in the top division they are good enough to build on that. Oyston is near, but not there yet. His instinct is right though. Why should Blackpool pay more for the players who have achieved less than their squad which achieved promotion last season?

Money seduces all in the Premier League – in football – but the biggest betrayal of that seduction is the idea that one can shortcut hard work and mental belief that brings initial success by throwing around the cash that results from it.

The Taylors

Peter Taylor spent his Saturday afternoon watching Blackpool beat Cardiff to secure promotion to the Premier League for Sky TV and while the City manager is better at his day job than the post-modern wonder that is Soccer Saturday’s meta-football – watching people watching a game – the Bantams gaffer will have taken note of the rise of the seasiders.

Blackpool – the team of Directions to Wembley – have earned the crack at the Premier League which clubs like Bradford City, Burnley and Barnsley have had before and save the reservation about a curious afternoon at VP a few years ago when both Robbie Williams and Claus Jorgensen thought they had been sent off only for City’s Steven Schumacher to take the first use of the soap one wishes them well.

A look down the Tangerine squad shows few names which will be known to those who are buying 2010/11 Panini stickers but Ben Burgess had a brush with the Bantams some time ago and Brett Ormerod played for Park Avenue. Charlie Adam has obvious quality and is known to many, one name that does stick out is Gary Taylor-Fletcher.

Taylor-Fletcher score a close range headed goal at Wembley which will be – to date – the highlight of a career that has taken him to Huddersfield Town and Lincoln City as well as a couple of loans at Dag & Red. As much as Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney though he is a Premier League player.

This is a lesson often forgotten by football managers. Many of the players who people teams like Blackpool, Burnley and City were what would be considered journeymen but with the coaching in place, with mental belief and some strong characters then a player like Taylor-Fletcher can go from Huddersfield to The Premier League in the space of three years.

Has Taylor-Fletcher become a better player? Perhaps but Blackpool would have many of the squad who had improved if that is the case. Probably it is more correct to say that Ian Holloway has crafted a team to be more than the sum of parts such as Taylor-Fletcher.

The majority of managers – for many and varied reasons – are not able to create a team like that – Paul Jewell did it at City, certainly did not at Sheffield Wednesday – but as he spends a summer recruiting and signing up people for the City squad Peter Taylor will aim to do the same with the Bantams.

For if the past three years has had an object lesson it is that squads, not signings, make for successful teams.

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