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.

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 ‘ten’ obsession and decline in number nines

Sometime over the last ten years something clicked in the minds of those managing top flight football clubs in England. No longer could sides afford to play two up top and so the art of a ‘deadly duo’ or strike partnership has slowly waned. In his autobiography Gary Neville credits Carlos Queiroz for Manchester United’s deviation from English football’s most tried and tested formation as a way to counter European sides who were overrunning English midfields in the Champions League.

Gary_Neville_crop

The switch away from 4-4-2 has had a dramatic effect on three areas of the pitch. No matter which alternative is used the defensive unit is now afforded more protection in either a defensive midfielder or an extra centre half. Midfield options and shapes have changed to accommodate diamonds and Christmas trees which has lead to wide players being pushed either further forward as part of a front three or back as wing backs. Some teams abandon wide players altogether outside of the defence and therefore the onus is on the full backs on either flank to provide width. Arguably the biggest change has come in the pursuit of the perfect number ten.

The ten role has been around for almost as long as 11 a side football but the job of a ten has changed to suit the times. For a long time in England the number ten was merely a second striker, the little man to the burly number nine or vice versa as a hold up man. Either way they were expected to chip in with a decent strike tally but share that work load with someone else whose sole purpose was sticking the ball in the net. Nowadays some might argue not much has changed. A ten is still expected to provide goals in the shape of creativity, assists and good old fashioned goals but it would seem the position is used to harbor those seen as indispensable to the team. Roberto Mancini would rarely substitute Yaya Toure when under the cosh instead he would choose to push Toure further forward at the expense of a second striker, usually Dzeko. At Manchester United they have been through Shinji Kagawa, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Adnan Januzaj and even Marouane Fellaini in the position in the last three years without mentioning Wayne Rooney. It is difficult to know what a number ten is expected to provide for the team nowadays apart from that ever elusive ‘x factor’.

Arguably the best to wear the ten shirt

Arguably the best to wear the ten shirt

A by product of this obsession (or possibly just a coincidence) is a serious decline in top quality centre forwards. Because of the Ronaldo and Messi effect teams are now expected to get large numbers of goals from other sources. For Chelsea Frank Lampard took the role of goalscoring midfielder to new heights in the Premier League but it must be remembered that we are exceptionally privileged to see the likes of Messi and Ronaldo in the same generation and looking for wingers and other forward minded players to chip in with 50 goals a season is fantasy beyond those two greats. The baton then must be picked up by those number nines the world over but where are they?

Ron and Mess

Arsene Wenger has taken some huge criticism for his lack of activity in the recent transfer window but the investment in huge scouting networks for all Premier League clubs means the days of finding talent no one else has spotted are long gone. The only alternative then is to ask (with huge sums of money) football’s biggest and richest to give up their rare talents.

In bygone years you could spend an entire evening discussing and reeling off the list of talented number nines in European and world football, that simply is no longer the case. According to the press Arsenal failed in their attempts to buy Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, Barca have Suarez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is 34 years old and German giants Bayern have Robert Lewandowski. In England Manchester City have Sergio Aguero and Chelsea have the time bomb that is Diego Costa. Outside of that list there are some good strikers but none are super stars. The lack of world class talent in that position has lead to the great Brazil playing with a chap upfront called Fred! Worse than that some sides have such a depth of talent in other positions they have experimented with not playing a striker at all. For both Barcelona and Spain Cesc Fabregas has been employed as a ‘false 9’, something up until recent years would have seemed impossible to contemplate. For the sake of the game a new crop of top strikers needs to emerge soon or that all important art of goalscoring might be left up to made up positions and the new Ronaldo and Messi. Long live the number the centre forward, striker, attacker. Whatever you call them they used to be the players most kids aspired to be. If we are not careful they might just turn into a nostalgic distant memory.

Man City’s Premier League failings could damage Chelsea’s European campaign

After Manchester City’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Liverpool on the weekend most pundits handed the Premier League crown to Jose Mourinho’s men. The transition of domestic power taking just six months from Eastlands to Stamford Bridge. Gary Lineker took to Twitter to congratulate Chelsea on a league and cup double as Chelsea beat Spurs at Wembley on the same day to lift the League Cup.

Whilst the news is all good for Chelsea and their fans on the domestic front, their superiority and dominance in the league won’t help them in Europe’s elite competition. Since nowadays you do not even have to be champions of your country to qualify for the Champions League the intensity and workload in the race to become Europe’s top dog has increased markedly. The top leagues in Europe are afforded four places and the Champions League in most people’s eyes is seen as setting the bar for the highest standards of football. An obvious example of a winner who didn’t win their domestic league is last year’s European champions Real Madrid who were seconds away from losing the final to La Liga Champs and city neighbours Atletico Madrid.

All of this is bad news for any side dominating their domestic league at any time and history backs this up. One of the few criticisms of Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United sides is that they won too few Champions League trophies. It is no coincidence then that their two triumphs under the Scot came in seasons where they were pushed all the way on the domestic front. In 99 United had to beat Spurs on the final day of the season to ensure victory over second place Arsenal and in 2008 they narrowly beat fellow Champions League finalists Chelsea to the Premier League crown.

The theory is then that when pushed hard domestically it is easier to transfer that intensity and form into European football. On the flip side to that, coasting to victory in the league means having to step up performances in the Champions League and this has rarely been possible. The theory is not nailed down to just English clubs. The same can be said of various sides across Europe and it must be pointed out that no side has ever retained the trophy up to this point.

It wasn’t so long ago that the footballing world was lauding all things German. Bayern Munich were champions in 2013 admittedly after a procession in the second half of the Bundesliga season. In the first half they were pushed hard by Dortmund who seemed to conserve energy in the latter parts of the season for their European exploits; A tactic that nearly paid off losing 2-1 to Bayern in that tight Wembley final.  The next season and Pep Guardiola came in and brought his brand of football to what was an already impressive side. The results were mixed though and whilst they continued to exert their huge dominance on the Bundesliga their European challenge faltered. They were soundly beaten by Real over two legs in the semi –final of the competition a result that is bound to have hurt former Barca man Guardiola.

It would seem that in order to win the Champions League a side must reach the peak of its powers in May a challenge that is made all the more difficult when strolling to league victory. Maintaining that peak is an even greater test but if anyone can become the first side to retain the trophy it’s European royalty Real Madrid.

Chelsea’s Champions League campaign is far from doomed but they will need to be pushed a little harder in what remains of the English season if they are to take Real’s crown in May.