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?

Quique_Flores

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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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.

MUFC

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.

Drinkwater

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.

The steady decline of national expectations

There was a time in the not so distant past where every football fan in England would be buzzing with anticipation for tonight’s fixture in Spain. A chance for hopefuls to set out their stall and make their case for selection in next year’s Euro 2016 squad. To add a bit of spice to the occasion the game will be played against a Spain team who have dominated most of the last decade in international football and team made up largely of players from the great Barcelona and Real Madrid teams. So what’s changed? The answer is relatively simple: Expectation has changed.

Pic credit - Guardian

Pic credit – Guardian

For years long suffering England fans convinced themselves there was a decent chance of England winning a major tournament. ‘Why not’? You would hear people say ‘individually we are as good as anyone’ was another overused conversation starter heard in pubs up and down the country late in May every two years. In recent times the golden generation with Becks and co have come and gone and still we are no nearer to seeing an English pair of hands on a major international trophy.

Given the amount of time that has passed since that famous victory in ’66 you would think expectations would have died off a long time ago. Unfortunately a few England teams dared to flirt with the idea of winning something and these brushes with glory made us all believe when really we had no place to. Gone are the days of building up the weight of a nation’s expectations and then unfairly placing them firmly on the shoulders of one special talent. Nowadays England fail collectively and people like Gareth Southgate are even allowed to become manager of the under 21s. In 1990 it was Gazza, 96 saw Shearer banging them in for fun and in 98 we had we had the precocious Michael Owen terrorising defenders. The last person we built up to shoot down recently became the nation’s leading all time goal scorer but in truth the last time he was winning matches single handedly was 2004. England it would seem no longer expects.

The average football fan has become more cynical. There are many who see international football as an unwanted distraction from the Premier League and more recently the Champions League. No longer does the World Cup or European Championship hold mystery. Through foreign talent coming through the Premier League, saturated European football tv deals and YouTube we have seen them all before. There are very few talented players off the radar that no one has heard off and as a result the big international games have lost some of their magic.

There is even an air of ‘less is more’ from the hierarchy at the FA. The appointment of Roy Hodgson a while back will have pleased a few who were looking forward to having an English manager again but without disrespecting the current gaffer, he wouldn’t be on a shortlist for many other big jobs in the world of football. In the past England had lured masters of Europe in the form of major dissapointment Fabio Capello and before him Sven had a few bites at the cherry with England’s so called ‘golden generation’. Roy has done a great job against bad opposition in terms of qualification but his tournament record is not a highlight for his CV. You get the feeling with Hodgson that he is mere moments away from becoming the new ‘wolly with a brolly’.

Perhaps this is all entirely wrong and England will shine against Spain and from that take the inspiration needed to go on and win the Euros next year. A few years ago some would have been able to get on board with that fantasy. Getting carried away with a performance in a friendly was perfectly acceptable. Nowadays? Anyone booked their tickets for the final?

The English Enigma

Every now and again football fans in England are given a glimpse of something rare that makes them sit up and take notice. A handful of times in a generation, through skill or luck, the football clubs in this country produce an enigma. A footballer you cannot help but get excited about, a player whose traits are anything but typically English and more suited to the flare of South America or the Iberian nations.

Rarely however do these players go on to fulfil their early promise and the nations enormous expectations. There are of course a few exceptions. Whilst never breaking into the top tier of world footballs elite, Wayne Rooney has won plenty at club level including the Champions League and many regard ‘Gazza’ as the most talented player to don an England shirt. More often than not though these players fall by the wayside, after promising so much early on, few go on to achieve the hallowed ‘glittering’ career.

Joe Cole came through the ranks at West Ham and looked as though he could rule the world. This precocious youngster played the game his way, with barely a care in the world Cole showcased silky skills and the ability and talent to beat a player which is rarely shown by Englishmen.  After an impressive spell under Mourinho at Chelsea Cole’s career has since stuttered and he has faded into the famous ‘what if’ category so many English players do. 

Cole never quite realised his potential

Cole never quite realised his potential

Jack Wilshire signed for Arsenal in 2001 and had pundits studying youth football cooing almost immediately. Having broken into the first team in 2008 Wilshire has struggled with injuries and has never really had the run of games needed to fulfil his potential. Paul Scholes famously said that the Arsenal starlet had failed to improve between his debut and now.

Wilshire has shown a lot of promise

Wilshire has shown a lot of promise

Sir Alex Ferguson once stated that Ravel Morrison was the most impressive 14 year old he had ever seen; high praise from the man who nursed the career of ‘Fergie’s fledglings’ from the class of 92. A series of off the pitch misdemeanours led to Morrison first being booted out of United and then West Ham. At the age of 22 he is without a club but Lazio are said to be interested according to the Telegraph.

So far his career has been one of self destruction

So far his career has been one of self destruction

All of the above players have been in the press for the wrong reasons in the past which begs the question; are they being managed properly? There is a fine line between mischief in a fine player and over stepping the mark. When you look at the managers these players have and still play under it is hard to believe that they are being mismanaged. So why do we fail to get the best out of the most talented individuals in this country? Is it down to the workmanlike, team mentality which is encouraged in England or does it go deeper than that? Until we see one of these English enigmas flourish and succeed the answer will remain a mystery.

International Football at its best

Last night saw hosts Chile beat Ecuador 2-0 at the start of the 2015 Copa America, an international football tournament with a difference. Flare in this part of the world is a by-product of the expansive, quick game most sides in South America play. It isn’t thought of as unnecessary or an act of showboating, no flare in this part of the world is just another tool to get the ball in the back of the net.

Logo_Federación_de_Fútbol_de_Chile

Fans of Pep Guardiola style possession football might want to give this display of pacey, through the pitch football a miss though. The ideology of most sides in this tournament is to get the ball from back to front with blistering pace and no side in world football showcases a talent for the style more than the current Chile squad with Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez spearheading their attack.

The only drawback to feasting your eyes on such a spectacle of pacey, frenetic football is the time difference which means most games will be played at 00.30am at the earliest. If you are a night owl you are in for a very special treat.

Whilst the world cup offers a rare insight into many sides and players you would not always be able to see, it cannot offer the quality of games played in the Copa America. Every game, it would seem is played as though each side’s life depends on it. Absolutely nothing is left on the pitch.

As well as providing an opportunity to see established super stars such as the Barcelona front three playing for their respective countries, the tournament showcases future raw talent. Make no mistake Premier League sides will have sent their scouts here on mass and it would be no surprise to see some previously unheard of players lining up for sides across the country next season.

Despite their humiliation at the hands of Germany at last year’s World Cup, this tournament offers Brazil the chance of redemption. They can banish the awful memory of that semi-final defeat on home soil with a win here in Chile. Brazil will always attract viewing figures; they are a far more robust side under Dunga and still the samba kings whilst in Neymar they have a successor to Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo’s crown.

Then there is Argentina and Messi. The little magician is back to his frightening best after finally overcoming his injury problems. He is due a big performance for his country and given how he finished the domestic season who would bet against that happening in Chile?

In spite of the late nights to come there is plenty to look forward to in this tournament over the next month. Your boss probably won’t thank you for it but missing out on a few hours of sleep has got to be well worth it. Let the football fiesta begin!