Employment

Leeds I Predict A Riot

Some might have noticed old Davie Moyes was given his marching orders over at Real Sociedad. Full disclosure: I am rather partisan on the topic of Moyes. Many of my fellow and dear Toffeemen (and women) have basically written the ginger Scot off as yesterday’s news, that he was too dour, too conservative, too… well, you get the picture. There hasn’t exactly been a love-in of support for this manager who conjured respectability out of a transfer budget so slim it is a wonder he built any squad whatsoever.

But build he did and over an eleven-year stint. During that time, Everton finished in the bottom half of the league only twice, never sinking lower than eighth, with a fourth place finish and a subsequent qualification to the Champions League thrown in. All on a shoestring. He parlayed the loss of the generation’s greatest English star Wayne Rooney into that fourth place finish. Everton played in the UEFA League and its successor, the Europa League, in three of those seasons, getting as far as the round of 16 one year. It does not look like much on paper but is significant when one considers the outlay of England’s European regulars such as the Mans U and City, Chelski, Hottenham Tottspur and the red mob across Stanley Park.

In short, I believe Moyes was, on the balance, good for Everton. He came in and dealt with things, never one to whine. Was he a bit pragmatic or dour, even? Sure. But he is a very intelligent manager, a footballing realist who believes in himself. You have to have a set to move from a comfortable appointment at a big (if cash strapped) club like Everton (where he could have remained indefinitely) to take on the snarling monstrosity that is Manchester United. After that gig went caput, he did not hang around these shores but chose his next appointment to be in Spain, in Basque country no less, a culture as foreign and insular as could be found in Western Europe.

You can’t say the guy shies away from challenges.

That gig, sadly, did not go so well for the Glaswegian. A failure to adapt, to even settle in enough to find a house (he stayed in a hotel for the entirety of his 364 day stint) or learn the language more than likely contributed to the impression that he never thought he’d last anyway. If he’d managed to produce the results then great. Unfortunately, those antecedents mentioned earlier are usually what will buy you the goodwill (and thus, time) to get the results. His inability to do so is, ultimately, cost him that needed time.

Moyes continues to split opinion wherever he goes, but there are plenty who still wonder what could have been if he been given the chance to really bed down at the Theatre of Dreams. It’s all speculation now, which is great fun but hardly can be used for serious dialogue on the subject. What the record shows is that Moyes can do great things on a limited budget in a club of a certain size (and history) in a place where he can settle in to the culture.

Maybe that’s why there are rumors bubbling up around the hinternets that he is being sized up for the hot seat at Leeds United, should bajillionaire Steve Parkin’s proposed 30 million pound bid go through. So let’s look at a few things here…

Leeds were relegated from the top flight at the end of the 2004 season. They have toiled for the last eleven years in both the Championship and League One. That is quite the plunge for a team that, during the ten years prior to their initial relegation from the Prem, had finished in the top five at total of seven times. The Premier League itself has only been around since 1993. Who won that final season season of its predecessor, League 1, in 1992? Leeds. They won it two years before that too. If you go back further, they reached the final of the old European Cup in 1975, losing to Bayern Munich. There are movies about the club. Kaiser Chiefs are huge fans. This is a massive club, with a large fanbase and storied history.

My guess is they’d be right up Moyes’ alley.

So, what needs to take place for this scenario to come about?

Right off the bat, current owner and tax fugitive Massimo Cellino needs to sell up. This comes much to the delight of Leeds fans and staff alike, the Italian owner being not the most loved figure at the Yorkshire club. His agreement to sell has set the Elland Road phones buzzing with potential suitors, with local businessman and lifelong fan Steve Parkin one name bandied about in the press. Initially, Cellino had offered to sell the club to a fan group, but backed out of that, much to their fury. It will be difficult to predict what can take place until the ink is dry on the sale contract. All bets are off between now and then.

However, if Cellino does indeed sell and if it goes to Parkin, then you would have a serviceable arrangement for the fans, at least in my mind. The similarities here between Leeds and Everton only increase at this point. Like Everton, Leeds would be owned by a lifelong fan who, while very wealthy would not be in the league of, say, Roman Abramovich at Chelsea or the Abu Dhabi group at Man City. Rich, but not rich rich. Parkin’s fortune is estimated at around 190 million pounds. His up-front investment in the club would come in around 30 million, it is said. That is a fair chunk of what he owns. And then comes the fun bit of actually running the club. How would he keep cash-positive?

The article in the Express states that Parkin has floated the possibility of a partnership between himself and Cellino. This is would more than likely not sit well with the fanbase. If assurances are made that the former Catania owner would have no part in the running of the club and would, effectively, be a silent partner, then perhaps it could work.

All of that aside, this would be a decent platform for Moyes to reinvent himself. As alluded to earlier, I am not of the opinion that Moyes is a rubbish manager. I think he was screwed at United. It is an under reported fact that Moyes’ short amount of time at the United helm was adversely impacted by the appointment of Ed Woodward as the club’s CEO. Never having navigated the transfer market at any club, Woodward was given point on negotiating contracts and, as such, United made several disastrous moves during that first transfer window that ultimately came back to haunt Moyes. Had outgoing CEO David Gill stayed at the club one year longer, Moyes could still be standing on the Old Trafford sideline this season.

Moyes’ year in northern Spain must also be taken into context. It was always going to be a big ask for someone who never lived outside of Britain to go to a new country with a radically different culture and be successful. Some will point toward Steve McClaren’s successful spell at FC Twente in Enschede and criticize Moyes for not doing as well. There are similarities in both instances, but there are also some very extreme differences.

Firstly, McClaren’s hard-earned reputation was savagely torpedoed by the fickle and ridiculous English press. It is fair to say that his stint as England manager was extremely poor, but it must also be pointed out that expectations for the Three Lions are not in line with reality. England are not a global powerhouse and have not been for a long time. That McClaren was unable to motivate the troops is not entirely his fault.

McClaren to his show on the road after the England disaster, similar to another former Toon manager, Bobby Robson. He was very clever in taking over Twente because, frankly, no one had ever heard of them before he took them over. They were a smallish club in a league that has produced some significant brands on the European stage (Ajax, PSV Eindhoven) but is largely of interest only to the Dutch. McClaren went there and did very well for himself, winning the Eredivisie in 2010 and making forays into European competition. On the strength of these displays he was hired by Wolfsburg, which didn’t go so well. His return spell at Twente was not as successful as the first time out. His return to management in England came via Derby. he was hired by Newcastle this last summer in what has proven to be a very difficult return to the big time indeed.

McClaren really did fail with England and was subsequently tarred and feathered by the press. Moyes did not suffer such an ignominious public flogging as McClaren and still has his supporters. Secondly, his next job was in what is arguably the world’s most glamorous league. Glamour is different than competitive, though – it is arguable that there is greater competition between teams in Holland than Spain. Aside from the big four of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia and Atletico de Madrid though, there’s not much else going on in the league. The spotlight is much brighter, however, and while McClaren learned to navigate the Dutch league and assimilate the culture, Moyes never really fit in. That has to be on him. In Spain, you speak Spanish. The supremos at Anoeta saw in him real talent and drive, and he without a doubt has both in spades. His failure to adapt to the culture and to ever, really, unpack his bags speaks volumes.

So he’s done the Spain adventure. He’s been at the helm of arguably the world’s biggest club. He’s proven he can lead a former giant like Everton. He has bags of experience at this point. He could be just what the doctor ordered at Elland Road.

He will hope for better than what happened to McClaren at Derby, though. Remember, he got fired from that gig. Sure, he landed on his feet (so to speak) at Newcastle, but he has battled there. What’s to say Moyes will have a better run of it at Leeds?

The answer to all of these things is, at least in part, down to the owner. If the owner is patient and backs his man, there is far more chance of success. Moyes had that at Everton, just as McClaren had it at Middlesbrough and Twente. He did not have it at Wolfsburg. He did not have patient bosses at Derby. He might still pull it off at Newcastle, but everyone knows Mike Ashley is a blithering idiot.

If Steve Parkin takes over the club and behaves more like an owner who truly loves the club (like Everton’s Bill Kenwright or Middlesbrough’s Steve Gibson), then Moyes will be given every opportunity to come right. If Cellino hangs about, then maybe not. Good owners make for good clubs. I hope Leeds gets one who is looking to see the club be great because he or she loves that club, not because of the potential for revenue. I’d say Leeds is the kind of club I’d love to see turning out in the Prem. It will be interesting to follow this story.

A Very Ugly Rumor…

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There is an exceptionally ugly rumor making the rounds in Brazil that the CBF (Brazilian Football Federation) sold the result of the Brazil vs. Germany game (that game). While the sources are not exactly reliable, it is telling that so few question the CBF of being capable of such nefarious action. One director is quoted as saying “Screw the supporters, we’re going to get ours…

Honestly, I would be equally unsurprised to find out this is either a hoax or true. The second link above is to a Brazilian site in Portuguese, but you can translate the page with Google. I find it telling that on the same day this rumor began to gain speed, Globo TV of Brazil, the country’s largest television network (who retains exclusive broadcasting rights to all FIFA televised content and who is also named in this latest rumor as being part of the malefactors) published a report of their claiming Germany bribed FIFA officials and even supplied arms to Saudi Arabia in exchange for votes to send the 2006 World Cup their way. Curious timing on that one…

The Kiss of Death

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There are few teams in the top flight more radioactive than Newcastle.

The combination of a seemingly clueless owner, an unreasonable fanbase and an erroneous perception that the barcodes are a big club have left more than a few decent (and other not so decent – Glenn Roeder) managers chewed up and spat out along the way. There is no question of the devotion of the Toon Army fans – they are among the most rabid in all of the Premier League. Few places generate more atmosphere on matchday than St. James Park (naming rights were sold and the ground is officially known as Sports Direct Arena). Its 52,000 plus seats give off the air of it being the home of a truly great club. Truth be told, though, Newcastle has all of the hallmarks of an unsustainable sporting venture whose fans are choking it in a stranglehold of demands for greatness.

There are some reasons for this. Once a thriving industrial town (coal, steel, shipbuilding), Newcastle, with its working class values, once kept the Empire stocked with much of the raw materials needed for it to expand indefinitely. Even with the demise of Imperialist expansionism there was still plenty of need for its goods around the home nations.

The demand began to dry up as early as the 1950’s, with the city’s last coal mine shuttering its doors in 1956. The shipyards went into steep decline in the 70’s, while ancillary businesses packed up and moved elsewhere. To this day, the Northeast benefits from the highest percentage of public sector jobs (roughly 20%) in England, with the bulk of these located in Tyneside. The economic downturn of the late 2000’s hit Newcastle and the Northeast of England especially hard, with many of the service jobs that had set up shop in the area packing up and moving east to India and the like in the constant search for cheaper service-sector labor. To add to these woes, David Cameron made clear that he takes a dim view of the number of public sector jobs in the Northeast, and has every intention to trim those back. There is a big push to help entrepreneurs get going, but economic insecurity plays on the minds of locals constantly, a shadow over day to day life there.

In much the same way that Americans went to the movies in increasing numbers throughout the Great Depression, football viewership is often an outlet for those down on their luck. A once thriving city whose residents prided themselves on their vital role within the great British Empire, the impression and outsider gets is that the people of Newcastle still carry about them an air of injury, of having been forgotten or left behind. There is a sense that Tyneside’s inhabitants still struggle to this day to see their vitality having been cut back so cruelly by the change in the global that has not bothered to see if there is a place at the table for them.

This same air of injury carries over to the average Toon Army militant. It colors all events through the lens of us versus them, the outsiders taking “our jobs, our money, our women” away, an emasculation and sense of helplessness that drives the people to drink and self destruction. The suspicion toward outsiders runs deep, but they are not averse to turning on each other. Honorary President for Life Sir John Hall led a hostile takeover of the club in 1992, with the Magpies teetering on the brink of being relegated out of the Football League altogether. He chaired the clubs rapid rise back into the big time, even so far as to challenge for the Premier League title in 1996. Hall handed control of the club to another local businessman, Freddy Shepherd, who proved who proved enormously unpopular with the fans for his disparaging comments regarding the Toon Army and calling local girls “dogs.”

Eventually, the Geordie businessman was facing a battle on a different front when Mike Ashley tabled a hostile takeover bid of his own. He was ultimately unable to repel the London businessman, and so in 2007 Ashley came into the possession of one of England’s greater albatrosses. In his relatively short time at the club he has seen seven managers come in and out of the revolving doors at the club (Sam Allardyce, Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer, Chris Hughton, Alan Pardew and John Carver, as interim until the end of the 2014-2015 season). In this time, the club has been relegated to the Championship once, flirted with relegation three other times, and had one European adventure (in 2013).

Welcomed at first, Ashley incurred the fans’ wrath after the departure of Kevin Keegan. Ashley appointed local lad and hero Keegan soon after he took over the club and dismissing the extremely unpopular Sam Allardyce, whose negative style of football did not sit well with the fans. Keegan, the Geordie Messiah himself, came in and restored something of a feel good factor on Tyneside. Nevertheless, the cracks began to show toward the end of his first season there as he chastised the club’s leadership for not providing enough financial support. It was the appointment of Derek Llambias, a long time associate of Ashley’s, as Director of Football (in an attempt to adopt a more continental approach to club management) that drew the most ire from Keegan. He resigned in protest early during his second season in charge, stating that he felt the ability to run the team the way he saw fit was taken from him. Queue the protests from the barcodes, and things have not been peaceable on Tyneside since.

Alan Pardew was the longest-standing manager at Newcastle during the Ashley era, although he was never embraced by the fans. A man of class, he bore their criticism without firing back or taking the bait and hung in there, doing a job at a club full of disgruntled supporters. This lasted until a vacancy appeared at his old club Crystal Palace. To give you some idea, Selhurst Park in southeast London sits a mere 26,000. For a well respected, well paid manager to up stakes and leave a club with a global profile and a stadium twice that size tells you a little something of how unpleasant things were.

It is into this ungodly mix that Mike Ashley must dupe some poor rube into taking this particular poisoned chalice. One wonders what sort of fee, what sort of conditions an intelligent manager would have to lay out in order to be able to build something of substance there. While Ashley has managed to eke a profit out of the club over the last few years, it would be fair to suggest the man has not done enough to hold onto their top talent. Happy to reap the gate receipts and revenue from replica shirts (his company, Sports Direct, is into just that industry), Ashley knows that the Toon Army will pony up the cash every time. So what’s to say he will now open his wallet not just to snag emerging talent and turn around and sell them in a matter of two seasons?

The two names being touted in the press are Patrick Vieira (former Arsenal midfield maestro and current development coach at Manchester City) and Steve McClaren (formerly the manager of Middlesborough, England, FC Twente in Holland, VFB Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest, and most recently Derby). The two candidates could not be more different.

On the one hand you have Vieira: Arsenal legend, a World Cup winner (France, 1998), and presently coaching the Elite Development Squad (read: the youngsters).

On the other is Steve McClaren, a vastly experienced manager who, while possessing a patchy resume, is unquestionably qualified to lead the Magpies capably if he were appointed to the post. Of the two, he knows the costs of coming into an extremely challenging role for a historically underperforming team, whose fans are the most unreasonable, delusional bunch out there (remember, he coached England). So he has an idea already of what that particular pressure cooker feels like.

McClaren would likely demand assurances that Ashley indeed had a plan to bring in the silverware he recently promised. Geordie fans have seen too many false dawns, and McClaren will be all too aware that jumping into this mess could be enough to irrevocably annihilate the reputation he has so carefully re-constructed following his time with the Three Lions.

That is why I would be very surprised if he took the offer. McClaren is not a stupid man. If he were to accept Ashley’s job offer then you would expect there was a timeline in place for success, a budget laid out and some benchmarks Ashley would need to keep to (as would McClaren) to see the club progress.

I do not think Ashley has any such thing in mind. He took over Newcastle at a time of massive turbulence in the club because he knew he had a captive audience already in place, a baying pack of rabid fans who regardless of how poorly their idols on the pitch performed would queue up at the club shop to shell out the $100-plus it costs to pick up a freshly minted replica jersey. It is why Ashley has upped his stake in another hotbed of fan lunacy, Ibrox’s own Glasgow Rangers. Filthy lucre, people.

The most likely scenario here is Vieira takes the job and is devoured by the angry Geordies. He won’t even last to the end of the season. That is if he is foolish and/or delusional enough to believe he can succeed there. My guess is he might very well be that crazy and we will see the barcodes fighting at the wrong end of the league all season long.

2015 FA Cup: Arsenal vs Aston Villa

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The FA Cup. The grandaddy of them all. The world’s oldest knockout footballing cup competition has played every year since 1872, except for two breaks during World War I and World War II. This is its 131st edition, and two of the competition’s old stalwarts are present: Arsenal and Aston Villa.

Arsenal are tied with Manchester United for both final appearances and trophies won, with 18 and 11 respectively. Win this year, and you’d have to say Arsene Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal would be cemented for all time, regardless of whether they win another Premiership trophy under him. Not that anyone wonders whether the French tactician isn’t already a legend at the North London club, but with as many detractors in and out of the Emirates, this win would be a most welcome addition to the silverware cabinet.

Aston Villa have appeared in the final ten times, winning seven of those. They are the fourth record highest FA Cup winners, and are as such not to be taken lightly in this competition. Their last appearance was in 2000, where they lost to Chelsea, and their last victory was in 1957. It’s a wonder whether any supporter of theirs in the stands today was alive on that day way back when.

There is a sense of tradition and history today. If Wenger can lead his Gunners to victory, then they will be the all time FA Cup winner champions, with twelve. Villa winning would see them move up into a tie with Tottenham for third most Cups won.

The form book has these fairly even, but the Villains saw their play dip slightly once their survival was ensured. Villa manager Tim Sherwood wants to see his side recover their playing ability and fight for this, one you can believe the boys will be pumped up. Both will have a go at each other, and you can be sure there will be no buses parked at either end of the pitch; Wenger does not believe in them and Sherwood only knows how to play attacking football. On a head to head for their attacking players, I have a sense that Villa’s Christian Benteke might have the edge over Olivier Giroud of Arsenal, having rediscovered his shooting boots in the latter half of the season. He has scored ten goals in the last ten games of this year’s Premier League. Giroud has not scored four, but the last of these was in the beginning of April. If it comes down to the strikers, you’d have to bet on Benteke.

For my money, Arsenal’s danger man is Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh schemer has scored 11 in all competitions over the last year, which might not seem like much but he has the knack of putting them in on the big occasion, like last year’s FA Cup final. Arsenal have some injury concerns: striker Danny Welbeck is to miss the final through injury, while Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Mathieu Debuchy are all to be given late fitness tests. Villa are at almost full strength. Keep an eye on teenage midfielder Jack Greelish. He had a great game against Liverpool, and the intrepid young man could factor hugely again today.

In the head-to-head, the two sides have faced each other ten times at different stages of the FA Cup. The Gunners have prevailed on seven of those occasions, so Villa will be hoping to add a very big fourth win over them today. I am pulling for the Villains. I have no issue with the Gunners or Wenger, but my sense is the wind is at Villa’s back. Having avoided the drop and seeing that they can play good football with the squad they have, they will be going into the final full of belief. As already mentioned, today’s final is likely to be an open, exciting affair. Here’s hoping for goals during the regular ninety, and over time, maybe even penalties. This is because I am taking my son to a birthday party in an hour here and will miss the bulk of the game. Selfish, I know, but it’s my blog!

D-day for Blatter

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The delegates are voting on the future of Sepp Blatter, and the organization as a whole. You can follow the blow by blow here. The ever reliable BBC has their man on the inside. It’s rather humorous.

Blatter will almost certainly be voted back in. Getting him out will be difficult, although it can be done. Scrolling down through above link, I found this:

“… Uefa could call for an extraordinary general meeting of Fifa’s Congress if Blatter. [sic] If 20% of members agree, the meeting would have to be held within three months – and a motion of no confidence would almost certainly be put forward.”

What this tells us is even if he gets in, Blatter now has a fight on two fronts. He will do his level best to keep any to the dirt that will inevitably flow out of the arested FIFA dignitaries from staining him, all the while fighting an insurrection within UEFA. It makes for marvelous theater!

A dark day for the Swiss schemer, no doubt, but one he is liable to survive. If this scandal does not literally do him in, he will still be fighting against a tide of disgust and unrest from within UEFA and the larger delegation that is liable to sweep him away, for good. And the sooner, the better. It is as yet unknown whether Prince Ali is an improvement, but until Blatter is out we will not know. My guess is that reality, or any one that does not include a Sepp-tic component to it (sorry…) is still some ways away.

Special thanks to a good friend, João Miller, for telling me about this amazing, world changing program called Photoshop. And here I thought all along that those model girls were just really skinny and plastic looking!