Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Euro 2016: Slagging off Roy for fun and profit

As the countless expression of dismay from journalists, bookies, commentators and other folk on Twitter have demonstrated, getting angry with the England manager's squad selection is both fun an profitable. Roy Hodgson's final roster for Euro 2016 is no exception.

One of the principal sources of ire is that Leicester City's Danny Drinkwater was not selected for the final Finals squad, it seems in favour of the perennially injured Jack Wilshere. The two players play in the same position and in theory perform the same duties or at least they would if one of them did not spend more time on the treatment table than on the pitch. On paper, on grass, by the numbers and by common sense generally, Drinkwater is the in-form choice and from a certain perspective, the right choice. If you adopt that perspective then England coach, Roy Hodgson’s selection of Wilshere is counter-intuitive to say the least.

It is Hodgson's judgement that Wilshere is a better player that Drinkwater and he is not alone in this judgement. Wilshere, it is argued by his supporters, is one of the most technically skilled players in England. On a recent Sunday Supplement the consensus among those august journalists around the breakfast take was that if he Wilshere is fit, Roy will pick him. Just like Paul Gascoigne in his pomp who often got called up for England despite injury concerns. If you put Drinkwater against Wilshere based on those criteria, there is only one winner.

If this seems harsh then that’s probably because it is. But ultimately, the coach has to make a judgement call. If Hodgson thinks that Wilshere works better in his team then it is his right to pick him. Analysts may disagree and they may be proved right but it’s Roy’s cock on the block which makes it entirely his call.

Besides, I suspect that the truth is that Drinkwater wasn't dropped by Wilshere but for Marcus Rashford. Hodgson, for better or for worse chose to select all five strikers in Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy, Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and the painfully young Rashford and it is the latter who has effectively usurped Drinkwater. The real are of concern for commentators isn’t whether or not he’s bringing enough midfielder but why he has brought five strikers.

If I was to guess I’d say that England are playing a kind of front four in Euro 2016; with either two deep lying midfielders or Wilshere working in tandem with Rooney in the middle of the park, depending on how well or how badly England are doing. The England manager probably figures that he doesn’t need Drinkwater and would rather engage versatile strikers or attacking midfielders instead. This may explain why Ross Barkley made the cut.

Also, look at that midfield: Adam Lallana, Dele Alli, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley. Eric Dier, Jack Wilshere and James Milner. This is pretty much the midfield that got England to the tournament. Had Wilshere been fit that would have been the midfield almost to a tee. Once he decided to take the Arsenal man there really was no one left to drop. Sadly for the Leicester man, he has arrived at the party a little too late. Given that 18 months ago no one would have imagined him in the team, Drinkwater has done brilliantly to reach the point where he is seen as the victim of a selection injustice.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Supporters must have a voice in the proposed Football League restructure

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17596581
The recent announcement about proposed restructuring of the English Football League has generated no small amount of excitement. Sadly, from what I've read at least, it’s not the good sort of excitement.

The restructure comes from a desire to solve a perceived problem. That being there are too many games being played in mid-week. Floodlight games are fun but seen (at least by the people that drafted the proposal) to be bad for business and bad for the player’s fitness. Reducing mid-week fixtures allows time for players to recuperate and train for the next game. It also eases the pressure traffic and public transport as there are less people travelling the country on weekdays.

In order to decrease the number of fixtures the plan is to increase the number of teams to 100 hundred and to divide them among four divisions. The additional teams are likely to be made up teams from the National League but many commentators are suggesting that the door may be open for the two Glasgow clubs enter the league. There are reference to reserve team football and the Johnstone paint Trophy which people are inferring that the largely unwelcome matter of Premier League reserve teams competition in Football League competition may rise again.

The plan itself seems short on detail. Indeed, the announcement on the Football League’s website is badly formatted with at least one typo. This may not seem important but as a document of weight and implication you would have thought they could have engaged a copy editor to give it the once over. Also missing is a lack of detail about how supporters are to be consulted. Indeed it is worrying for the future of the plan that no attempt to canvas opinion from fans, even at this preliminary stage. The only reference to fan consultation is in the final sentence of the announcement.

The proposal has the tacit approval of the Premier League and The FA but the decision as to implement it rests with the clubs and they have until November 2017 to decide. One assumes that it rests with the clubs to consult the supporters about their feelings on the changes. Given how the proposal directly affects supporters it is disappointing that the League has not utilised the Football Supporter's Federation’s connections to kick off a consultation process. While many clubs will be only too pleased to consult their supporters about this plan, there are some clubs who won’t and I don’t just mean the rogue or maverick owners who are in well-publicised disputes with their supporters.

I don’t doubt that some of the benefits are actually beneficial but the lack of consultation of the actual people who actually pay to actually enter the stadium is familiar and depressing. No doubt the League would argue that it is for clubs to liaise with their support. However, there appears to be a lack of guarantee from supporters that this will happen. Certainly this author would never dream of bringing into question the commitment to their fans of owners of clubs like Blackpool, Leeds or Charlton (to pick these clubs out of the air at random). However, all clubs could find themselves in a difficult position should they find supporters at odds with their own sentiments on this matter.

And opinions are likely to be strong and the temptation to dilute the supporter’s views may be too strong should clubs and fans be not of one mind. It seems unfair to set clubs at odds with their fans unnecessarily. Also, independent consultation is wise so as not to give the impression that fans views are not welcome. I'm certain that is not the case. After all, only a fool discounts the views one of your primary sources of income.

Happily the FSF are about to embark on their own consultation exercise. It is hoped that the Football League clubs pay heed to the results. There are many stakeholders with a right to participate in the decision making. It is likely the the PFA and the league generous sponsors will take a view and that view will be heard. As a significant contributor to the income of Football League clubs, supporters have as much right to be heard as they.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Joachim Löw's Euro 2016 Germany squad is a blend of experience, youth and loyalty

After an interminable and lengthy presentation featuring, celebrity guests, ambassadors, montages and tedious recollections of past glories, the German national team coach Joachim Löw introduced and explained his preliminary 27 man squad for the forthcoming Euro 2016 tournament in France.
Löw has called upon the tried and tested in Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Höwedes, Sami Khedira, Kroos, André Schürrle, Mesut Özil and of course Thomas Müller. Available too is Marco Reus who would definitely have made the World Cup squad in 2014 had he been fit.

The squad also has an interesting selection of trusted but surprising choices in  Lukas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Götze and young stars who have broken through this season such as Julian Brandt, Leroy Sané, Julian Weigl and Joshua Kimmich.

Of the former group, Götze is the hardest to explain. He has barely featured at Bayern Munich at is deemed surplus to requirements. But the contribution he has made to the team, in scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final, mixed with his doubtless if dormant talent seems to have given him a ticket to at least the preliminary squad. Löw will have to determine whether the former Dortmund star is fresh or stale.

Schweinsteiger has spent much of the latter part of the season injured. You would perhaps think that this would be a good opportunity for him to be omitted in favour of someone younger. But as Löw said "Bastian is the captain" and if there is a chance of him being fit in time, he will play. In fairness there is no arguing with his experience and influence in the dressing room.

The selection of Podolski has also raised a few eyberows. The Galatasaray player is considered to be well past his best and I would argue that even his best was not good enough to match the talent available to the coach. Löw explained his inclusion thus: "Lukas Podolski still has a great sporting value, even if some people cannot understand. Lukas can still bring the performance that we expect from him."

Of the youngsters, Brandt's selection is off the back off a sensational run of form that help lift Bayer Leverkusen’s to a third placed finish in the Bundesliga. The 20 year old attacking midfielder has scored six goals and provided three assists in the final eight games of the season, of which he appeared in seven.

Weigl has been sensational all season since making his 1. Bundesliga debut for Dortmund in August. A composed and almost flawless passer of the ball the former 1860 Munich player ,who was captain at 18, may not make the cut for the Euros but this is a prelude to a lengthy international career.

Sané is a trickster with a turn of pace and superb close control. He can beat players and get behind defences. I think he's was too inconsistent at Schalke and needs some more seasoning before he is ready. But his selection represents a statement of intent but Löw and should be applauded.

Kimmich, was the young defender who was subject to that intense and bizarre lecture from his coach Pepe Guardiola after the 0-0 draw at Dortmund in March. "I told him that he's perhaps one of the best centerbacks in the world," Guardiola told the press conference after that game. "He's got the desire, the will, the passion. He's got absolutely everything."

Notable omissions include Paris Saint-Germain 'keeper Kevin Trapp, Borussia Dortmund's Marcel Schmelzer and Matthias Ginter. Also missing is Bayer Leverkusen’s  Christoph Kramer.

Despite their poor performance in qualifying Germany should be very confident of going deep in France. This is a balanced squad with players very much at the peak of their powers. The challenge for Löw is to get the shape right in time for their opening group match against Ukraine on 12th June. Germany will warm up with friendlies against Slovakia on 29th May against Hungary on 6th June.