Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Di Canio's departure creates recruitment issues for Sunderland

Rarely have we seen the unhappy demise of a football manager illustrated in a single public gesture as we did with Paolo Di Canio’s stand off after Sunderland’s 3-0 defeat at the Hawthorns last Saturday. It will go down in English football lore as yet another one of those bizarre moments of experimental theatre by a man who has for many years been a colourful conversation piece of the English Premier League.

From pushing referees off their feet to hoodwinking Fabian Bartez, the Italian forward (who would have been an eccentric journeyman had he not moved to a fledging Premier League that despite its wealth was still struggling to emerge from its tactical backwater when he was in his pomp) was a scorer of great goals and whose demonstrative manner and charisma made him a darling of the football media. But as a manager he appears to lack the skills of his trade that he had as a player and his antics now make him look like foolish. It is suggested that he had alienated himself to the point where even the tea lady had cause to complain.

Given the circumstances of his departure and his reputation as a coach, it is unlikely that we’ll see the former Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham striker managing a Premier League club again. One can imagine a low ranking Serie A club taking a punt on him for the last weeks of a season in a desperate attempt to avoid relegation. However, beyond that it is hard to see too many clubs employing a man whose previous employer at Swindon described his methods as “management by hand grenade”.

As Di Canio departs, Sunderland are faced with a task that in recent years, has proven problematic. Di Canio’s predecessors Martin O’Neil and before him, Steve Bruce had their moments but the former was not popular for his tactics and the latter was just not popular. However, had they continued, it is as likely as not that they would have steered Sunderland to a consistent lower mid table position which, the club’s owner Ellis Short probably feels is not sufficient but in the grander scheme is no disgrace.

A little further back, Roy Keane was recruited to inject some dynamism and energy into a club that from the outside appears moribund. However, despite a blinding start leading to an emphatic Championship victory, Keane too was unable to lift the Black Cats out of their mediocrity.

It seems that in recent years, the club has appointed either experienced managers who have hit a bump in their careers or inexperienced firebrands who promise to energise the club. We can deduce, therefore, that Mr Short and his Sporting Director, Roberto Di Fanti, is looking for a high profile coach who can inspire the fans while at the same time actually coaching the team.  This is probably why, Gus Poyet is the current favourite and the other names in the frame, Steve McClaren and Tony Pulis are not.

McClaren is reputed to be an excellent coach and the only Englishman since Howard Wilkinson in 1991 to win a domestic league title. In fact I argued in this week's Sound Of Football that he would be a good choice for Sunderland. However, the former FC Twente coach’s reputation is damaged following bad spells at Wolfsburg and perhaps more pertinently at Nottingham Forest. However, you can be sure that Harry Redknapp will be a relieved man if his assistant coach at Loftus Road is discounted. As for Pulis, there can be little argument with his record at Stoke but he wins ugly and you suspect that Sunderland have had a belly full of ugly.

The other prime suspect Roberto Di Matteo who won the Champions League with Chelsea and demonstrated his skills in re-motivating an unsettled dressing room after the departure of Andre Villa Boas. You can’t shake the feeling however, that the former West Brom manager was not much more of a caretaker and that the real power during that extraordinary cup run lied in the Stamford Bridge Dressing Room with the senior players. This may be a simplistic interpretation but one that is widely felt and may prove to be a barrier to employment for Di Matteo.

Poyet exudes the image of the modern coach and is an obvious choice. His final week’s at Brighton were scatty in more ways than one but the Uruguayan has proved to be a more than competent manager who has served his time as an assistant and enjoys a positive media profile.

His first task will be to look after the tea lady and then the dressing room will follow.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Champions League Match Review: Bayern Munich 3 CSKA Moscow 0

Recent happenings at Bayern Munich are a classic example of how to manufacture a crisis where there is none. After having won the treble, the Bavarian club have changed their head coach and the transition has resulted so far in a mere two points dropped at Freiburg. Yet, during coach Pep Guardiola’s press conference before the Champions League opener against CSKA Moscow, he found himself fielding questions, about comments made by his Sporting Director Matthias Sammer who criticised the Bayern players after their 2-0 win against Hannover last Saturday. Yes that’s right, a 2-0 win.

Sammer’s remarks elicited a reproach from no more imposing a figure than Uli Hoeness. The club president said that Borussia Dortmund would be laughing at Bayern’s expense following Sammer’s outburst. And you’d have to say he had a point because while it is fair to say the Bayern have not been the rampant trans-European express from last season, were it not for Dortmund’s perfect start Bayern would be top of the Bundesliga table, right now.


The Champions League provided the opportunity then to focus minds on the football and a home opener against a decent but beatable CSKA Moscow side would prove a worthy adversary and allow Guardiola’s players to address the concerns of their sporting director and give the scribes something else to talk about. They did not disappoint.

This was one of the most one sided performances you’re likely to see in the Champions League and although much had been made of the Guardiola style this Bayern performance had stronger echoes of last season’s team. The flank player’s bamboozled the CSKA defenders with their versatility. Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben frequently switched sides and would also be found playing down the middle as the nominal front men, Thomas Müller and Mario Mandžukić would deputise. Supporting Ribéry and Robben were the full backs, Rafinha and David Alaba, the latter being the player to open scoring after four minutes with free kick from range that eluded CSKA keeper, Igor Akinfeev, as the ball bounced just before his gloves.

In those opening minutes it looked as though Ribéry was going to the roast the opposition full back, Kirill Nababkin. However, the Russian maintained his composure and was to an extent spared by Bayern’s positional rotation of their forward players. CSKA did, fo a few minutes mid way through the first half, manage to recover enough to press Bayern off the ball and force enough loose passes out of them to fashion a half chance via a long range effort from Ahmed Musa. Despite this, Mandžukić still managed to miss a couple of golden chances, one of which bounced off the post. That was before he finally headed in from a free kick by Arjen Robben to make the score 2-0.

Flawless Kroos

While the wide men continued to hover and attack, Phillip Lahm, a seeming natural in his relatively uncommon position of defensive midfielder put in what appeared to be an effortless performance in front of the back two (and yes, it was a back two). Just slightly ahead of Lahm was Toni Kroos, who took advantage of the extra space in front of him created  by the otherwise preoccupied CSKA midfielders to make killer passes out to the aforementioned wide players and the marauding Thomas Müller.

The third goal came in the second half. Unsurprisingly the move began out wide with Rafinha linking up with Ribery whose passing and movement at breakneck speed was a hallmark of last season’s Bayern. The ball was floated over to Alaba in a central position who lobbed the ball into the area where the onrushing Robben who, unmarked, calmly slotted home.

It is difficult to criticise CSKA too harshly as they were hardly given a second to think. On 39 minutes, Vitinho managed a mazy if ineffective run in the midfield but there were no options for him and inevitably he was dispossessed by Robben and forced to try and draw a foul for his trouble. Similarly, Keisuke Honda wasn’t given a kick and the only real opportunity he had was from a free kick that he wasted. The Muscovites will have better days.

Less Pep 

After the game, Guardiola was quoted by UEFA as saying “the style we play is Bayern’s style not mine.” which is a somewhat contrary perspective. However, judging by that performance it is difficult to argue. Bayern are set fair for another successful campaign in Europe and Matthias Sammer can feel as though his work is done.