Leicester’s success could spell trouble for managers.

Okay so I know Leicester’s story is what football is all about. The David versus Goliath fable no one saw coming and many other clichés that have been (rightly) used to describe their incredible and inspiring achievement. Here comes the flip side of all that positivity. What happens to the teams in the lower half of the league who have had expectations not just raised by Leicester’s achievements but propelled into the Premier League stratosphere?

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Under fire gaffer Quique Sanchez Flores

Normally amongst right minded people you could dumb down any ridiculous expectations but the world of football club owners in the Premier League is not exactly dominated but such people. You only have to look at Gino Pozzo at Watford to see that managing expectations is one of the hardest parts of the job for Premier League managers nowadays.

At the end of this season Quique Sanchez Flores will sit down with the hierarchy in the Hornets boardroom and undertake an end of season review. Nothing surprising there, it is common practice for football clubs up and down the land and further afield. Here’s the crazy part, the man is under serious threat of losing his job! This won’t be helped by the fact that everyone’s new favourite team won the league this year on a pretty similar budget.

What about Stoke? Hughes has spent good money at the Britannia and has brought in real quality leading some fans to rename the club ‘Stokalona’. For all of their flare and great performances this year there have been some equally bad humblings, especially in recent weeks. Does this mean the Welshman is now looking over his shoulder? With two games to go Stoke are tenth, a position lower than they achieved last season. So for all the exciting players they’ve brought in are they really any better off than they were under Tony Pulis?

Speaking of Pulis’ old teams what’s happened to Palace? At the beginning of this season people were talking of how Pardew had taken the team forward but for an FA cup final he too might be wondering if his days at the club were numbered.

Every great success has a consequence. It is always fantastic to dream of better times and new beginnings however it would be a catastrophe for the sides that finish in the bottom half if their managers felt the axe might come down on them at any time. For many that is already the case but Leicester’s success could and probably will ramp up that pressure. Many owners will ask ‘if Ranieri can do it why can’t (insert managers name here)’.

Some football fans are already waiting to see if Newcastle can avoid the drop so they can have a punt on them winning the league next year. If Benitez, a European cup winner, does manage to keep the magpies afloat then what price the Premier League title next season?

Everton fans have seen what another side in blue can achieve and are angry their man Martinez hasn’t done the same at Goodison. This is not a defence of the ever positive Spaniard as he has real talent and quality in that Everton side that has underachieved. You can’t help but wonder if the ‘dily ding, dily dong’ philosophy of another footballing nice guy will spell the end for him. In any other season it would just be written off as a bad one and time to start again.

Finally a man in the top half of the table who has been described by one of his oldest enemies as a serial under achiever, Arsene Wenger: In a season where both Manchester clubs have wavered, Chelsea lost the plot and Liverpool were once again rebuilding, Wenger is likely to see north London rivals Spurs finish above his Arsenal team. This season Arsenal didn’t bow out of the title race after pressure from one of England’s super powers, no this year they lost out on the title to Leicester City. The Foxes story is fantastic for neutrals everywhere. It’s everyone else who is worried.

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Troy Deeney: A man whose troubled past laid the foundations for current success

In the last few years the Premier League has lost some natural leaders, many of whom have not been replaced. Liverpool are only just coming to terms with the loss of Gerrard; Manchester United have lost three pivotal figures in Gill, Ferguson and Vidic and Arsenal are still struggling to replace Adams and Vieira.  It’s likely that come the end of this season John Terry will walk away from a glittering career at Chelsea and yet another player from England’s golden generation will have ended their relationship with the Premier League.

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Watford Captain Troy Deeney

Another London club and one who can’t compete financially with Chelsea have no such problem. Having secured Premier League survival and an FA Cup semi-final, Watford owe much of this season’s success to the leadership of duo Troy Deeney and Quique Sánchez Flores. Deeney was a goal scorer in an otherwise disappointing 2-1 defeat at Wembley but no one could accuse the Watford captain of underperforming.  In an interview with Soccer AM earlier this year Deeney opened up about his relationship with his boss:  “He’s a legend. You can talk to him about anything from the things at home that might be stressing you out to not having enough sleep to train properly”. Not many players are so open about enjoying such a relationship with their manager which makes speculation that the Spaniard may lose his job at the end of the season all the more bizarre.

If the manager is the leader off the pitch then Deeney more than fulfils that role on it. A vocal leader of men, his displays are at the very least full of effort. No one could accuse this guy of not living up to the job required.   Things were not always so bright for the Hornet’s number nine though. The lifelong Birmingham City fan grew up in Chemsley Wood eight miles out of the city centre.  At 14 he was expelled from school and left education at 16 with no GCSE’s. He began working as a brick layer before starting his professional football career at Walsall. In 2010 he signed for Watford for an eventual fee of £500,000.

In 2012 Deeney followed a path walked previously by his father who had spent various stints in jail. Troy was imprisoned for three months for his involvement in a brawl where he kicked a man in the head. Deeney describes his time inside as ‘the best thing that ever happened to him’ leaving with GCSE’s in Maths, English and Science. Above all else the he had a renewed sense of perspective.

Since then he hasn’t looked back and isn’t just Watford’s captain but their talisman. When it’s going well at Vicarage Road you can be sure Deeney is in the goals and assists. When they are struggling no one is more willing to roll up their sleeves and put a shift in. To describe Deeney merely as a hard worker is an insult to the goals record he has achieved this season and throughout his Watford career. Troy Deeney is a captain in every sense of the word. No one is more important to their team in an era where that is less and less the case in the Premier League.

Youth being let down at United

The club is famous for its promotion of young players to the first team. In fact for nearly 80 years Manchester United have had youth team academy products in their match day squads and starting 11.

When Alan Hansen proclaimed arguably his most famous words as a pundit ‘You can’t win anything with kids’ most would have agreed with him. Back then it was in reference to Gary Neville (aged 20), Paul Scholes (20), Ryan Giggs (21), Phil Neville (18), Nicky Butt (20), and David Beckham (20). Few could have predicted what that group would go on to achieve but they didn’t get to the top on their own.

A mixture of good fortune, brave management and strong personalities around the club helped form a perfect storm of youth and experience that would go on to dominate the domestic game for longer than any of them could have imagined.

Fast forward to 2016 and a new talented crop of youngsters are being spoken about in glowing terms from many inside and out of the club. A mixture of injuries and a small squad have somewhat forced Louis Van Gaal’s hand during his up and down tenure at United. Many at youth level have been given a chance to show first team players what they are about.

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Short of giving those older players a lift, much of the responsibility for getting results has been placed firmly on the shoulders of the youngsters. Never has this more prominent than in recent weeks where striker Marcus Rashford has been deployed as the sides main goal threat and Timothy Fosu-Mensah as an integral part of the back four.

Against Tottenham on Sunday Rashford was replaced by Ashley Young, a man who has played everywhere but up front for Louis Van Gaal, whilst Martial was kept out wide. Once that decision had been made United’s attacking threat in the game was non-existent and Spurs took the initiative. Having said that Manchester United looked as though they could cope at the back for long periods. That was until Fosu-Mensah was forced off with injury. Tottenham took full advantage of his absence and ran in three quick goals in a manner reminiscent of United of old.

The class of 92 were doubted at the beginning of their footballing journey but had leaders and generals all over the pitch to rely on and help them when things weren’t going well. At the back the Neville brothers had Pallister, Bruce, Irwin and Schmeichel to help them through peaks and troughs. The midfielder’s all knew they could rely on their captain Roy Keane for leadership and Eric Cantona for inspiration as they grew and learned the game.

At this moment in time those young players who have made the break through are the players being leaned on. When they don’t come up with the goods, invariably the team fails. They are offered little to no protection or help on the pitch from the senior pros and when you look at the squad it’s not difficult to see why.

Under Van Gaal Adnan Januzaj has been allowed to stagnate whilst Andreas Pereira appears to have been frozen out of the first team after showing glimpses of real promise in the limited time he’s been afforded.

At the same time younger players have been brought in to enormous cost and pressure in the form of Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay. United can no longer look to Vidic, Ferdinand and co to put an arm round these signings. Instead Carrick and Rooney are left in charge of lifting players, which at the moment is a pretty unenviable task.

Whether it comes from the top down, the transfer policy and current management of the club may have offered youth a chance at Old Trafford but too many are happy to stand by and admire the youngsters work. If the talent currently on show is going to be given a proper chance to flourish, older heads in the playing staff, coaching staff and at a much higher level need to stand up and be counted.

 

TV money and big team bullies

Like a badly made ‘who dunnit’ the main culprit for football’s latest shambles of an idea is obvious but this time there are some big time co-conspirators.

The premise is simple, you take the best supported clubs in European football and guarantee them a place in the Champions League. This is the idea being toyed with by television companies and clubs such as Arsenal, Manchester United and AC Milan. The 2018 competition could see teams like this seasons high flying Leicester lose out to a so called ‘bigger’ club if they had the audacity to finish in the top four.

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Whilst these clubs have no right to decide the fate of who can qualify for the competition beyond their own performances, the offer could prove to be an attractive one to TV broadcasters who pay huge sums of money for coverage of Europe’s premier competition.

Clubs like Chelsea and Liverpool who have little chance of qualifying for this years competition would make the grade as a ‘big’ club if the rule change is ever allowed to pass. The whole idea leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and although it is a long way off from being agreed, the lure of TV money may once again win the day.

This cannot be allowed to happen. The idea goes against everything sport in general stands for. It is anti-competitive not only for the Champions League but for the Premier League too.

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There is little incentive, beyond money, to finish in the top four for clubs like Leicester if they know there is no chance of a European place. To make matters worse clubs with rich history and pedigree in the both competitions have little motivation to compete in The Premier League knowing European qualification is pre determined. Their best players could and probably would be rested in domestic fixtures thus diluting the quality.

Make no mistake Leicester City, and clubs like them, will see this as an act of bullying by the rich European elite. For the good of the game the ban on hunting clubs like the Foxes must be enforced.

Does football need a Kerry Packer?

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In a time where much of Europe, the Americas and Australasia have had enough of football’s governing body is it time for a breakaway federation to be formed? And who will be brave enough to take on such a mammoth task?

Last week was a truly exceptional week for world football’s governing body FIFA not only were seven high ranking officials either arrested or indicted but the divisive  president Sepp Blatter was re-elected right in the middle of the FBI led storm.

It would be fair to say the re-election of Blatter for a fifth term was not well received here or in many other European nations where Blatter is seen as complicit in the corruption that has enveloped FIFA. It must be pointed out however that amongst much of the world’s football associations and confederations he is an immensely popular figure credited with spreading the message of the beautiful game far and wide. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa being the first to be held in the continent of Africa provided Blatter with huge support from CONCAF the African equivalent to UEFA European football’s governing body.

Whilst UEFA president Michel Platini openly called for Blatter to resign his national football association in France backed and voted for Blatter along with the Spanish. All of this would make a break away from FIFA a monumental task and it remains to be seen if anyone is brave enough to take the first step.

There have been vague threats of boycotting the next World Cup as a result of last week’s election from some in UEFA but this seems a very unlikely step given that not everyone is unhappy with Blatter at the helm.

In 1977 an Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer took on the world’s cricket boards which he saw as stuck in the mud and set up World Series Cricket. Whilst the venture did not last particularly long Packer managed to attract most of the games top players and Word Series Cricket two year revolution is credited with giving the game a much needed shake up.

Whilst a boycott of a World Cup might send a message to FIFA, the threat of a break away tournament would send shockwaves around the world of football. It may take someone like Packer who comes from outside the game to form such a tournament but if the world’s best teams and players could be attracted then FIFA would have to stand up and take notice.

As things stand no such person has stepped forward and the danger is that unless the FBI investigation goes much further the beautiful game’s name will remain tarnished by those at the top sweeping corruption under the carpet.

Someone with true entrepreneurial skill and foresight will be needed to take on FIFA and the pull of the World Cup but if history tells us anything nothing is impossible in sport. Football’s Kerry Packer may just be around the corner waiting to give the international game the lift it so desperately needs.