Will-e tough it out?

As Stuart McCall attempts to lift the players’ spirits for Saturday’s trip to Macclesfield, he may take a moment to smile wistfully at reaching another landmark in his managerial career.

After Willy Topp’s omission from the squad in Tuesday’s cup nightmare, Stuart admitted on the radio after the game that the Chilean striker is keen to leave the club. Speculation is rife as to the reason why, with most assuming it’s frustration at the lack of first team action. There are also questions marks over how well he has settled into the area – he is a 24 year old in a foreign country after all – and if the injury problems which have so far dogged his City career are still causing difficulty.

Whatever the reason it represents Stuart’s first – publicly at least – falling out with a player. A quick look through City’s previous managers shows it’s an inevitable occurrence that a player dispute would flare up at some point, Paul Jewell and Lee Mills and Colin Todd and Lee Crooks just two examples, rather than a negative indication of Stuart’s man-management skills. Nevertheless it leaves him with plenty to ponder as he attempts to get his new-look squad challenging for promotion.

The recent history of management-player disputes demonstrate that the majority of supporters will typically back the player in such situations, something Stuart himself will be well aware of after his bust up with Jim Jefferies in December 2001. It’s rarely as black and white to be able to lay the blame on one party, but a quick scan of the City message boards shows next to no criticism of Topp and plenty of Stuart for not picking him enough. If he leaves, a black mark will be put next to Stuart’s name by some.

Without knowing the full story there’s little to be done but speculate, too. If Topp’s reason for wanting out is lack of chances questions should be raised at him first. Topp’s introduction to English football last season was hindered by a muscle-tightening condition which prevented him completing a full 90 minute match. We saw glimpses of the player he could be, but at times, particularly in away games, he struggled to make an impact. He had plenty of tricks in his locker, but moves would often break down by his unwillingness to play the simple ball quickly. All of this wasn’t helped by those fitness problems and, when his season was ended early so he could have an operation, it was hoped we’d see the best of him this season.

Topp has been involved in pre-season and managed to complete his first 90 minutes in the Burnley friendly but, with competition for places up front increased following the arrival of Michael Boulding, it was obvious Topp faced a fight to become a regular. After just one game into the season, where he was an unused sub, the problems have emerged. It’s to be hoped Topp wasn’t truly upset to be left out Saturday – however much criticism Barry Conlon is currently getting it shouldn’t be forgotten he enjoyed an impressive pre-season – as no one has the divine right to be in the team or should be throwing in the towel so quickly.

It’s unfortunate Topp wasn’t in the squad on Tuesday as he would most likely have seen some match action. Indeed with Stuart wanting to rest Peter Thorne and Boulding not fully fit, who’s to say he wouldn’t have started the game alongside Conlon? In an evening where City were so painfully second best the failings were largely up front. Conlon and Boulding both struggled and when they were switched for Omar Daley and Thorne it wasn’t much better. Topp might have been more effective, but whatever has gone on behind the scenes meant we couldn’t find out.

If it’s homesickness it is something difficult to cure, but rather than fall out it’s an opportunity for Stuart to put an arm around Topp’s shoulder. There is something in the Chilean which suggests he can be an asset to the club, and giving up quickly on the first player City have paid a fee for in six years would be a great shame. Stuart has proved in the past, notably with Daley, that he is a manager who displays sympathy, rather than anger, when players are going through difficult times.

But ultimately it’s down to Topp. Playing in the 4th tier of English football is hardly what he grew up dreaming of, but if he is to leave because he can’t get in the team it doesn’t bode brilliantly for the rest of his career. He can go places with this club – or at least use it as a stepping stone. He might not have been in the team on day one but it’s a long campaign and he can work his way into it. A loan move has been suggested by some supporters and the examples of what such moves did for Jermaine Beckford’s and our own Joe Colbeck’s careers show it may not be a bad idea – as long as he is prepared to come back and prove his worth.

Stuart’s job is to get City promoted this season and in his judgement we must trust. Willy can play a big part but it’s down to his attitude and resilience to make that happen.

Make Topp happy – take the wrapper off him

Billy Topp is not happy at City and some say he wants to go. I’m not surprised is his not that keen. No one comes all the way from Chile to sit on thier backside.

Toppy came over this time last year and took ages to sign. He spent ages on the injury table after that but when he did play he looked the part. The turn against Shrewsbury was a class above and every time he plays he shows a bit of a brain and a lot of a heart. He is Bazza Conlon with flicks and he is ready to go.

So what does he get? He gets to play on the right wing while we go after Luke Beckett and end up with Michael Boulding. He is sitting on the sidelines as we bring players in over his head. No wonder he is unhappy.

So here is a thought. Why not give him a go?

Everyone keeps saying how Boulding is not match fit yet and hasn’t had a proper pre-season so why are we playing him and why aren’t we playing Topp? Topp was good enough to give money for how come he isn’t good enough to play over a guy who is supposed to be half fit?

Players need games and since he came Topp has not had the chance to get a dozen under his belt. If Stuart McCall wants to know why he is unhappy that is probably it. The solution is to give him that chance and show a bit of faith in the skills he showed that made us sign him.

Respect – The new way of Refereeing

I’d heard about the new season’s ‘Respect’ campaign. I’d seen a few of the TV adverts. I especially liked the one where our Euro 2008 ref from Rotherham, Mr Webb, (Well, ‘Howard’ doesn’t seem sufficiently respectful, does it?) is seen as a player with a headlock on an opponent while they both wait for a set piece to be taken. It did strike me that if our refs actually penalised some of those wrestling matches with bookings, rather than just held up the play and lectured the wrestlers, then they might win more respect and we might return to more football.

But then I heard that one of the ‘Respect’ rules was to ban instant replays from the manager’s dugout. I’m still struggling to find what’s right about that ruling. First of all, if a manager really wants know what the replay shows, there’ll be a screen out of sight and an earpiece link. Remember Jose Morinho and the man with the woolly hat? Secondly, how is it ‘disrespectful’ when the manager sees instantly what he would have seen at the end of the game and what the watching millions have seen anyway? Oh, I know the answer or at least I can guess what the FA thinks. If the manager doesn’t see a screen, he can’t rant straight away. (Well, he can actually, because some wrong decisions don’t need a replay to show how bad they were.) So, you see, it’s not the access to technology that’s disrespectful, but the rant that follows. Of course, that there’s only a rant when what the technology shows is how bad the decision was must be regarded as irrelevant, mustn’t it?

My real grouse with the technology bit is that the FA shouldn’t be banning it from the dugout, but should be offering it to the refs or at least to the fourth official. I’ve just seen on TV the most blatant penalty not to be given from the first day of the season (and neither of the teams has any claim on my allegiance). I shall not reveal the details. This way I can be respectful to the referee in question. But I know which ref it was. Respect? I don’t think so. Not until he comes out and tells us why he waved play on.

But what I did see in person at Valley Parade was another ‘Respect’ idiocy, the ceremonial entry on to the field and shaking of hands. Come on, who is it that thinks this is going to make a scrap of difference? By the time the coin’s tossed, we’ve all forgotten about lining up and shaking hands. We’re playing in claret and amber and they’re not. It was ever thus and a summary handshake at 2.55 will change absolutely nothing.

And the 14000 of us who saw the Notts County throw-in near the end of the game know just how much respect there was by that time. The ref had clearly told Evans to throw the ball out of play so Daley could be treated. Evans had equally clearly thrown it into touch within a very few yards of the corner flag (lesson to learn, says Stuart McCall in his post-match interview, about hoofing it into touch on the half-way line), in the natural expectation that it would be thrown back to him once the injury was treated and Daley was off the field (another silly rule!). So why didn’t the ref give a free kick and book somebody for unsportsmanlike behaviour? Maybe the FA will have an answer for that one. Perhaps he didn’t know how many of them had been unsportsmanlike! Until they come up with an answer, I shall say it was disrespectful on the part of both Notts County and then the ref, who seemed to be less inclined to show respect to the spirit of the game and perhaps more inclined to demand respect for his own decisions.

Oh, and one last thing on that throw. If the keeper needs to be told on radio that it’s a lesson to be learnt about where he puts the ball out of play, maybe someone with more experience, coming on to the scene only after the final whistle, when we’ve won and tempers should have cooled, might learn not to go within a hundred yards of the player responsible for the unsportsmanlike behaviour. That way there’s no risk of a ‘clash’. Now that he doesn’t have Deano to ‘mind’, maybe Wethers can continue his old role once he’s allowed out of the dugout at the end of the game. And, for this ref only, Wethers, could you keep an eye on the car park for an hour or two after the match? Or is that disrespectful?