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.

rashford

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.

 

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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.

Does football need a Kerry Packer?

Kerry_Packer

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.

Qatar distracting focus from Russia 2018

No matter what your stance is on Qatar’s human rights record, the overriding sense of anger directed towards the 2022 FIFA world cup seems to be more about weather and timing than anything else. The furore surrounding the proposed season change is surely over the top when you consider this is a once in every four year event. Given that FIFA president Sepp Blatter has already stated the award of the 2022 tournament in Qatar may have been a mistake, a change in season is likely to be a one off rather than a precedent setter.

Whilst this country’s army of football fans, pundits and journalists alike find every reason imaginable to be upset about the award, some consideration must be taken into whether this anger is misdirected. Ok so the tournament would much more convenient for a whole host of nations if it was held in this country but that was never an option. England and the FA failed with their 2018 bid not a 2022 bid. Furthermore with such an enormous amount of time to prepare for the event surely any overriding worries can be put to bed with adequate planning and foresight from the Premier League and Football Association. There is even an argument to say that playing in the winter will offer England’s players the opportunity to play at their peak and before they are burnt out at the end of a long domestic campaign.

If misgivings about the competition being held in Qatar are morally or ethically based then that is an entirely different discussion and one that needs to be put on the back burner considering who is next to host the tournament. With focus on the international game being, up to this point, centred on 2022 it would appear that many have forgotten about 2018s hosts Russia. This is a country currently in a state of conflict, whose economics are far from stable and whose relationship with the west is at its lowest since the ‘Cold War’. Again many hold moral objections to Russia being selected as hosts. There is even a remote possibility of the tournament being boycotted by certain countries after calls to do so were heard from current Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. Russian football is never too far away from controversy and Torpedo Moscow have just been ordered to play two games behind closed doors for racial abuse directed at Brazilian striker Hulk. This is just one incident in a long line of problems caused by racist chanting in Russian stadiums with neighbours CSKA Moscow’s conduct being called into question in 2013 when Yaya Toure suffered similar abuse in a Champions League tie. All of this will be worrying to many countries trying to qualify for 2018, none more so than the African nations.   

Whilst the England team, along with everyone else, are yet to qualify for the tournament in 2018 there are travel issues to consider. Here are some of the key issues highlighted by www.gov.uk:

To enter Russia you’ll need a visa before travel. During periods of high demand, you should apply for your visa well in advance. From 10 December 2014 Russian diplomatic missions and the visa application centres in London and Edinburgh will collect scanned fingerprints from visa applicants above the age of 12.

Overstaying your visa without authorisation from the Federal Migration Authorities can result in a delay to your departure from Russia, fines, court hearings and possible deportation and a ban from re-entry. If you’re staying for more than 7 working days you must register with the local branch of the Federal Migration Service.

All foreign nationals entering Russia must sign a migration card, which is produced electronically at passport control in the major airports. You should keep the other part with your passport; you will need it when you leave Russia and if you are stopped by the police for an ID check during your stay. There are many hotels and hostels that will not check in guests if they don’t have the stamped white immigration card with them. If you lose the second part of the card you will be fined.

So getting in and out of Russia is no simple task. Forget Qatar 2022, Russia 2018 is just three years away and provides more than enough food for thought for those thinking of going and television viewers alike.