Friday, 29 July 2016

Ricky Van Wolfswinkel – Journey of the Wolf

Part 1 – The Big Bad Wolf

Back in the March of 2013, NCFC announced the signing of Ricky Van Wolfswinkel from Sporting Lisbon on a 4 year deal thought to be worth around 8.5 million and making 'RvW' our record transfer signing in the process. The deal wouldn't officially go through until the re-opening of the transfer window, but the excitement was palpable. It transpired that we had apparently managed to agree a cut-price deal with Lisbon who were allegedly having financial troubles at that time, and that RvW had sought advice from his girlfriends father – none other than Dutch legend Johan Neeskens who urged him to join us feeling it would be a great fit for both club and player.

Come the 1st of July and Ricky was officially a canary, and thus began a somewhat OTT marketing campaign from the the club, with the player modelling the new away shirt whilst in the background is a forest with the luminous eyes of a wolf and the bold tag-line “Be Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf”. It was a decision that would later come back to haunt both club and player, but in truth at the time I absolutely loved it. Here we were with a highly talented goalscorer who'd also earned a couple of international caps with the Netherlands, and who had been scouted by the likes of Man Utd. It seemed like a coup of the highest order (and I still think it was to some extent), but lurking in the distance was a storm cloud that very few of us expected to be coming.

He made his league d├ębut in the season opener against Everton, scoring the equalising goal of the game (a 2-2 draw) with a superbly placed header following a mis-hit cross from Steven Whittaker. It looked like the start of something incredible was happening, yet following the opening game, RvW failed to find the net in the next 7 matches, however there was a key incident during this spell that I fully believe had a major impact on the player.

The date is Sept 21st, the opponents are Aston Villa, it's early in the first half when Robert Snodgrass cuts the ball back across the area only for it to be handled by Ciaran Clark. The penalty is awarded and RvW steps up to take it, having been the main penalty taker for each of his previous clubs, having a great conversion record and this being the ideal situation to get him scoring again after drawing blanks in the previous three games. However, despite the manager having pre-agreed that pens should go to RvW, despite everything being right for the player to take it, Robert Snodgrass decided differently, starts an argument with RvW and basically forces him off the ball so that he can take the penalty instead! Well, up steps Snodgrass – and Guzan saves it! Shortly after this, Libor Kozak scores the only goal of the game for Villa and we end up losing 1-0 to a side we should have beaten and at the very least taken the lead against.

Spin forward a month to the end of that barren 7 game period, and whilst RvW hasn't been able to add to his goal tally of that single header on the opening day of the season, the runs and movement have been there (even if the supply to him rarely was) and it's simply looking like 'when' he'll get the goal to start the ball rolling again rather than 'if', but he then collects a serious ankle injury that will keep him out for a month and a half, missing a further 7 games in the process.

Part 2 – From Big Bad Wolf to Dire Wolf

Following his return from Injury, RvW was slowly eased back in, making only sub 30min appearances for the next 3 games and even sitting out the New Years Day match against Crystal Palace on the bench. He was then restored to full duties against Everton on the 11th of Jan (possibly with hopes of another goal like the equaliser almost 5 months earlier), but the goal didn't come, nor did it come in the 2 games after this against Hull and Newcastle respectively.

The cracks had well and truly started to appear, both with Norwich's overall campaign success, and RvW's performances. The key issue being the overly negative tactics employed by manager Chris Hughton, which saw a highly defensive approach, with the majority of our attacking play being funnelled out to Snodgrass on the right side of midfield, who would then slow things down even more, before regularly sending in a cross that was usually nowhere near RvW (nor anywhere he'd like it to be either), or any other Norwich player for that matter.

If I recall correctly, Snodgrass was averaging just 2 accurate crosses for every SEVEN inaccurate ones! What's more, the role that RvW was being asked to play by Hughton simply wasn't his game. RvW is a classic goal poacher, nowhere more at home than in the 6 yard box or running off the shoulder of the last defender onto a good through ball for a quick snapshot finish. Instead he was being asked to play like Andy Carroll, and somehow try to be a big, strong, target man, who wins aerial battles, holds onto the ball with his back to goal and plays others in with this or his headed knock-downs. RvW may well be 6ft1” tall, but he simply didn't (and doesn't) have the physique to play that role, it wasn't a role he was either comfortable or familiar with, and thus combined with the frankly appalling quality of supply and incredibly slow build-up play, it was no surprise to see why the goals had dried up, and yet nobody at the club seemed willing or able to do ANYTHING about it!

By this stage, it was becoming clear that Chris Hughton had no idea how to get the best from the player we'd paid our record transfer fee on, Gary Hooper and Johan Elmander were getting the nod ahead of him, and the idea that we'd stop playing the most diabolical football I've ever seen as a Norwich supporter, was frankly like being in cloud cuckoo land, as we slowly gave up game after game in possibly the worst manner since Derby's ill-fated campaign back in 07/08...

Another 4-5 games passed with RvW either being sat on the subs bench or making little impact before being subbed in the 2nd half of games, and although it was plain to see just how hard the guy was trying to make things happen (possibly trying TOO hard), it just wasn't working and he was very much the 'square peg in a round hole', trying extremely hard to fit into an uncomfortable and unfamiliar system that seemed to invite disaster almost from the kick off, and then came THAT pass.

It's the 12th of April, the opponents are Fulham, RvW runs onto a ball in the area and close to the by-line, he looks up, sees little passing options centrally so decides to play the ball out to the right for the winger/full back to cross in, he does this with a cheeky no-look pass, which sounds all very Ronaldinho-esque until you realise that he's actually passed the ball to absolutely NOBODY. There isn't a player with 5 yards of him, and instead it gets passed virtually straight to a bemused Fulham player who quickly turns round and looks to begin a counter-attack!

If ever there was a moment that encapsulated his season, that was probably it. He simply wasn't on the same wavelength as the midfielders behind him, he'd make the runs – they'd ignore them, he'd be ready for a header at the near post – it'd be crossed 10 yards behind him instead, he'd hit a fantastic first time shot – the opposing keeper would pull off a 'worldie' to deny him.

After drawing further blanks against Liverpool and Man Utd, RvW was benched for the final 2 games of the season, and little did we know at that point, that the Man Utd game would be his penultimate, official match for the club, having played just 1400 minutes of football since joining...

Part 3 – The Loan (sic) Wolf

Following his disastrous first season in the Premier league (which ended in relegation for the club), it was hoped that the player could return fit and ready for a long campaign in the Championship, what's more, with former manager Chris Hughton having been dismissed towards the end of the previous campaign, surely more chances would come about under his replacement – former Norwich winger Neil Adams, a man who surely wouldn't be looking to take the same defensive approach that Hughton had done and who could set the team up to provide RvW with the right sort of ammunition to get him firing on all cylinders again.

Instead of this, the decision was made to allow the player to leave on a season long loan to French Ligue 1 side St.Etienne.

Maybe Neil Adams didn't think that he'd suit playing in the more physical Championship when he'd struggled with that side of the game in the Premier League, maybe he didn't think that the player would be committed enough and that he was 'too good' to be playing at that level (it certainly appeared that RvW's agent felt that was the case even if we didn't get confirmation of this from the player himself), or maybe he simply didn't want to play the type of system and style of play that RvW really needs to perform at his best, whatever the reason was, he was allowed to go on loan with a clause in the loan allowing St.Etienne to make the move permanent for around 4.75mil (thus with the club taking a near 4 million pound loss in just over a year).

Van Wolfswinkel duly went over to France, and then found himself in a very familiar and frankly disappointing situation. St.Etienne were also playing a lone striker system (much like how Hughton had done), and whilst it clearly wasn't a system as reliant on a big, target man, it still wasn't a system designed to get the best from an old-school goalpoacher, which lead to a season of rotation between RvW and Turkish international Mevlut Erdinc.

Much like how in his first season with us, RvW was similarly limited in his minutes played at St.Etienne as well, with just 1600 mins chalked up due to the rotation with Erdinc. By the end of the season, he'd scored only 5 league goals and 4 assists (and a goal in the Europa League), but if we extrapolate this over a full season, then he'd have potentially got 11 goals with 8 assists – hardly an awful return considering that yet again it wasn't a system designed to get the best from him and as it had been at Norwich, with the focus being on playing through a winger (Snodgrass at Norwich, Gradel at St.Etienne) rather than more centrally with through balls, or with crosses into the 6yd box for him to finish.

St.Etienne decided against making the loan move permanent and Ricky was all set to return to Norwich ready for yet another Premiership campaign following the successful promotion at the first time of asking under new manager Alex Neil, who had taken over from Neil Adams (who gracefully resigned) in the January and lead us on an incredible run losing only 3 games (and drawing 4) out of his first 22 games in charge, which took us not only into the play-offs, but to a play-off final victory against Middlesbrough!

However, yet again fate decided to conspire against him, with Alex Neil ALSO preferring to focus on using a lone striker (either a big 'target man' striker like Cameron Jerome, or a pacy player who would work the channels such as Lewis Grabban), thus again leaving RvW as being seen as simply not fitting into the way the manager wanted to play. After being benched or left out of the squad for the first few games, he was given a chance to impress in a league cup match against Rotherham, where he duly scored (he actually scored twice but one was incorrectly flagged as offside), was again left unused on the bench for the league game against Southampton, and then the news was revealed that he'd be leaving on ANOTHER season long loan – this time to Real Betis.

I'm sure at some point around this time, the player must have been thinking that he'd killed a nest of robins or something, and wondering how he'd gone from being scouted by Man Utd, scoring bucket loads for Lisbon and Utrecht, and having been signed by us for a record fee, to being misplayed, mis-used and loaned out left, right and centre instead of being allowed to do what he does best. I also wonder if there were a few choice conversations between the player and both Neeskens and Van Persie (who had also encouraged him to join us), asking WTF was going on and why was he being treated so shabbily?

Whatever the case may be, off he went to Betis and found himself competing for a starting place with Betis top scorer Ruben Castro, and experienced forward Jorge Molina. Minutes were difficult to come by, it was obvious that Castro was the 'main man' at Betis, and indeed Castro racked up more minutes that season than any other Betis player (including the keeper!), thus badly limiting the time and opportunities Ricky had to impress.

Truthfully though it was a poor season for the Wolf, he struggled to make his chances count, never got a run of full games under his belt to show any possible consistency, and finished the season with a mere 600 minutes to show for his troubles, a Betis side that like St.Etienne the year before had decided against making the loan permanent, and was now facing another return to Norwich who were still being managed by Alex Neil, albeit this time it would be back in the Championship again following our relegation (talk about yo-yo clubs!).

Part 4 – Back to the pack

Ricky returned to the club over the summer ready for pre-season training and willing to give 100% to show that he wasn't a flop, that he CAN score goals and perform consistently, but the issue was still there – he still didn't fit the system that Alex Neil wants to play, he's still one of our top earners and the manager still didn't appear to favour him, with a clear message apparently being sent out to other clubs that he was available for transfer ASAP.

Despite news reports linking Birmingham City with yet another season long loan deal, it was announced yesterday (28/07/16), that a permanent deal had been agreed with Vitesse Arnhem (Ricky's first club as a youth), for an undisclosed fee (not likely to be too high either), and that the Wolf's torrid time at Norwich was finally over.

Part 5 – Musings of the Author

I personally wish Ricky well in his career, I fervently hope that he regains his confidence and goalscoring ability with Vitesse and shows (albeit in a somewhat weaker league) that he isn't the flop that he's been made out to be, and to thank him for his professionalism and commitment to our club despite some truly trying situations and frustrations.

I also firmly believe that the defensive focused and frequently negative approach applied by former manager Chris Hughton was the beginning of the end, as pretty much EVERY striker who played under that same system also struggled for goals, including Hall of Fame member Grant Holt, who's 15 goal haul the previous year under Paul Lambert being virtually halved to 8 under Hughton, and with Gary Hooper, Johan Elmander and Luciano Becchio ALL suffering in this respect despite previous high goal tallies (Becchio for example had already hit 16 in 26 the season before at Leeds before a Jan move to us).

Do I think he could have done a job for us this season – yes
Do I think that Alex Neil would have made the necessary change in system needed to facilitate this – not a chance
Do I think that the move to Vitesse is the best option for both parties – probably, but I'll always wonder what could have been if we'd been willing to focus our play more to this strengths and let that natural goalpoacher have his fun with a selection of through balls, well placed crosses and more intricate passing in the area, rather than lumping the ball towards him and hoping he can hold play up against the usual burly centre halves that his physique was never going to compete against.

There will always be those who are unwilling to accept that there are numerous mitigating circumstances as to why his move here just didn't work out (and it's somewhat difficult to argue too strongly against this if we just look at nothing more than pure goal tallies), but a more in-depth analysis shows how little we actually did to get the best from him, that his time in France wasn't actually that bad, and that although his loan to Betis was pretty awful, that was more to do with being unable to displace one of their clubs star players whilst not being given the minutes to prove otherwise, and the knock on effort the past 2 seasons had taken on his confidence.

In closing, the 'Big Bad Wolf' may have stayed in disguise as Grandma for too long, but he now has the chance to truly change this, to knock the hell out of defences back in the Dutch League, to get his stalled career back on track, and show the rest of the world what he can do if given the correct ammunition.

Good luck Ricky, and again, thanks for your respect, professionalism and endeavour whilst at our club – even through genuinely difficult situations and circumstances that could easily have lead to negative comments that other players in the same boat would have been all too happy to throw around...

Monday, 6 July 2015

A look back over the season with an early look to the season ahead.

There's no doubting that this season was a real roller-coaster for City fans, we started with the permanent appointment of Neil Adams (despite having ZERO experience and almost deliberately trying to get us relegated whilst showing the board he could play for a draw against the likes of Chelsea when a win was needed), this lead to an opening day defeat against Wolves, followed by a strong run of results which saw us win 6 and draw 2 out of an 8 game run of form. However, this run of form couldn't continue and in fact abruptly ended with a poor 1-0 home defeat against Charlton and then dragged on for a 10 game period where we managed a single win and 4 draws.

There was another short upturn in form in December, with us winning 3 out of 4 games (including 5-0 and 6-1 results against Huddersfield and Millwall), only for this to be halted again with a home defeat against Reading just before the new year.

It was at this point that rumours began stating that the NCFC board were becoming very uneasy at Adams tenure and our somewhat worrying league position at the time, and thus before the inevitable axe could fall, Adams did the honourable thing and fell onto his own sword and resigned on the 5th of Jan.

Rumours then abounded about who would be chosen as his replacement, names from across Europe, the UK leagues and even the unemployment centres were touted around, and then from seemingly out of nowhere the club appointed the relatively unknown Alex Neil from Hamilton Academicals, a 33 year old former Barnsley player with just 2 years experience under his belt as a manager!

I was sceptical at first, in fact I was downright rude at times in regards to the appointment (something I soon came to regret), and in truth I couldn't have got it more wrong.

Neil's appointment galvanised a squad that should have been challenging for one of the automatic promotion slots instead of dithering around in mid-table, into a side that looked capable of beating ANY team in the league when on song, and thus began an outstanding run of results where we lost just THREE games out of the next 25, culminating in a 3rd place finish and victory in the play-off final against Boro. (Special mention should also go to stuffing Ipswich in the play-off semi-final, which I'm sure delighted their fans just as much as it did ours!).

It was a truly outstanding turnaround that Neil accomplished, and indeed many felt that he was just as worthy (if not more so) of winning the LMA manager of the year instead of Eddie Howe, certainly if we were to just base it on win %, then Neil would probably be rated as one of the best managers in Europe (if not the world), with an incredible 68% win rate since taking the helm at Norwich.

But as impressive as Neil's achievement has been, the work now has to start on the season to come. A return back to the Premier League's riches and crazy money means that squad improvement is going to be essential, and we cannot afford to have another high profile failure like we did last time with the signing of Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (who I still rate as a good player who was badly misused by Chris Hughton).

Notable departures include back left back Javier Garrido, 3rd choice Goalkeeper Mark Bunn, veteran centre half Carlos Cuellar and 'pinemaster' Luciano Becchio. In all honesty, the only player we're likely to miss from those released is Garrido, as he offered unspectacular cover for Martin Olsson in the LB position, and the question here is whether Alex Neil is in the market for a new player in the position (I like the look of either Baba Abdul Rahman from Augsburg, or Arthur Masuaka from Olympiacos) or if he's going to show faith in young Harry Toffolo who's impressed for both the U21 team and whilst on loan at Swindon.

Indeed, it's not just the left back position that's come under scrutiny from fans, as over the season question marks have been raised about the ability of both Russell Martin as a centre back and Steven Whittaker in the right back position. It could certainly be argued that these concerns are somewhat strange considering that we finished with the 3rd best defensive record in the league, yet I also share some of these concerns having seen some of the individual errors and mistakes that the players may get away with in the championship, that they won't in the Premier League.

Tottenham's young USA starlet DeAndre Yedlin is one of the main names linked with the RB position currently held by Whittaker, and this would certainly give us great competition in the slot as well as offering us incredible pace down that side.

In the middle of defence however, far less names are floating around, and although most fans would agree that a strong, ball playing centre back should be one of the main targets on Neil's shopping list, and whilst there are good young players out there like Niklas Sule, Terence Kongolo and Jonathan Tah, it's likely that experience will be preferable, with suggestions like Younes Kaboul being high on many supporters own suggestion lists.

We have already made two signings so far, by spending 4 million to make Graham Dorrans loan move permanent, and we've also signed his West Brom teammate Youssouf Mulumbu on a free transfer. I think both represent excellent value for money and undoubtedly improve our squad depth in the middle of the park, indeed Mulumbu will offer much needed cover and competition for Alex Tettey who has been one of our stand out players for the past couple of years, but who has struggled with injuries on occasion.

With Jonny Howson, Gary O'Neil and the fully fit again Vadis Odidja-Ofoe, the centre of the pitch looks relatively well covered, but sadly this isn't so much the case when moving out wide.

Clearly the key player here is England U21 superstar Nathan Redmond, who's continued improvement and superb performances for both club and country are likely to have one of the bigger names in football come knocking sooner rather than later. Indeed should Raheem Sterling leave Liverpool to join Man City, early rumours suggest that a 15-20 million pound bid from Liverpool would likely be forthcoming for Redmond's signature – a move that we seriously don't want to happen.

All this waxing lyrical about Redmond however shouldn't overshadow the player who quite rightly won this years Player of the Season – Bradley Johnson. Make no mistake, I've slated Johnson's passing accuracy and technical attributes ever since he signed for the club (whilst respecting his work rate, desire and attitude), but his movement out towards the left hand side combined with vastly improved shooting accuracy has made Johnson almost undroppable for us, and indeed his 15 goal haul from midfield is one of the key factors of our immediate premiership return, and full credit has to be given to the guy for this.

The problem comes when one of these two wide players becomes injured/suspended, leaving us looking VERY thin on the ground with replacements. Former Brighton winger Elliot Bennett has managed just a handful of games in the last 2 years due to injury and being out of favour, the young Murphy brothers whilst possessing clear potential are simply not ready for premier league football in my honest opinion, and Northern Ireland international Kyle Lafferty has never convinced in a wing role and is likely to be moved on anyway in the next month or so.

Reports linking Swansea's Nathan Dyer with a move east look to be little more than idle gossip at this stage, and despite my own personal preference, I have to admit that it's doubtful that Man Utd will allow us to bring Adnan Januzaj in on anything but a loan (if at all), yet surely this would solve much of the wing issues, with the player being comfortable on both wings as well as having the potential to provide cover in a more traditional no 10 position for the gracefully ageing Wes Hoolahan.

Alex Neil's own signing from former side Hamilton, Tony Andreu has failed to convince at all in the limited minutes he's played, but at the minute he appears to be off the pace and not physically strong enough to cope with the level he's moved to, but there's still plenty of time for this to change going forwards.

Speaking of forwards, this is the position that I think EVERY fan is concerned about.

Cameron Jerome is moving back into the prem after his best ever goalscoring season, yet it's not unreasonable to question his ability to maintain his excellent form, having previously failed to do so when playing at that level for Stoke, Birmingham and Crystal Palace. I think we've seen the player that Stoke and Birmingham fans knew was in there, but couldn't seem to consistently appear, and if Alex Neil can keep Jerome focused and scoring, it looks like one of the bargain signings of the season (something to thank Neil Adams for I guess...)

Beyond this you have the unknown quantity of Lewis Grabban at this level, and seeing as how I question his finishing ability at a lower level, I have serious concerns about what he can do in the prem. Indeed I can easily see Grabban becoming the new Simeon Jackson – great effort, great work rate, but not enough goals or quality to justify a regular place.

We also have a different option available in Gary Hooper, a player with clear finishing ability and good movement, but who simply doesn't fit into the target man role that Neil likes to play ahead of a midfield 5. Whilst there may be some merit in suggesting a more withdrawn role playing off Jerome or Grabban, it's clear that a front two is something that Alex Neil doesn't favour unless we're chasing a game near the end, when it could be 2, 3 or even 4 upfront!

I've also got to address the elephant in the room, and that's record signing Ricky Van Wolfsinkel. Loaned out to St. Etienne for the season with a view to a permanent move afterwards, the 'Wolf' has failed to impress his French suitors and returns to Carrow Road uncertain of what the future holds. Talk has been mentioned of a return to Sporting Lisbon – the club we signed him from and where his best goalscoring years were found, and indeed this would seem a sensible move for the player, to return to a club where he knows he can score and where the fans still love him. Personally I'd like to see what he can do under a manager that isn't trying to play him in completely the wrong way in an utterly negative, defensive fashion, but much like Hooper, he simply doesn't seem to fit into the style of play that Alex Neil is expected to utilise again this season, leaving him as little more than a very expensive bench warmer.

That leaves us looking at potentially signing a left back, centre back, right back, left winger, right winger and 2 strikers – not a cheap shopping list when you have a fund of approx 25-30 million and are looking to improve on what you already have rather than simply find decent cover options.

Due to their very nature, most of the time the lion's share of that expenditure would be expected to be on a striker, and whilst options like Charlie Austin provide a proven threat at this level, they come at a huge price, and one which I think we can avoid.

We may have been slightly burnt on the Van Wolfswinkel deal, but I firmly believe that the continent is the place to shop when it comes to strikers. Indeed, sides like West Ham and Swansea have shown what's possible with signings like Sakho and Bony, and it's simply down to Neil and the scouting team to get out there and see what they can find to fit the bill.

We've also already been heavily linked with Mulumbu's DR Congo teammate Dieumerci Mbokani, and if we really wanted to look for a proven premier league striker with great experience, then surely we need to look no further than Dimitar Berbatov who's been released by Monaco and is apparently looking for a move back to England. Clearly wages would be massive, and he'd probably expect a multi-million pound signing on fee (much like Swansea have reportedly paid nearly £6 million to Andre Ayew who they've signed this summer on a 'free' transfer), but at least you're getting a proven entity with undoubted quality and who has never relied on pace to perform – hence his advancing age is less of an issue that it would be for a player like Walcott for example.

It's early days on the transfer side of things and we're all waiting expectantly to see which players walk into Colney over the next month or so, but with the core squad that's taken us back up, an outstanding young manager with the desire and hunger to perform with the very best, and a few shrewd signings thrown into the mix, I'm very confident that we can not only stay up this season, but kick on from there and truly establish ourselves back in the top flight again.

Monday, 5 January 2015

The man who went for a keyboard and came back with a duck...

Like most PC users, I've typed on and used a variety of different keyboards over the years, from the ancient 'Buckling Spring' type keyboard that came with my old 486 DX/66 PC, all the way through to more modern 'Rubber Dome' options with 'Scissor' keys, so when my keyboard started to get a bit worse for wear, I knew that there were numerous options out there to consider as a replacement.

The keyboard in question that needed replacing was a Saitek Eclipse that I'd had for just over a year or so. Enticed in by the fully backlit keyboard, LCD number pad and sale price on Amazon, it was chosen as a replacement for the previous Logitech KB740 that my wife had bought me some 3-4 years before (I really liked the keyboard but it started developing problems and sadly also became gummed up with something).

In comparison to the Logitech, the Saitek was just nowhere near as nice to use, in less than a year there were numerous keys where the lettering had flaked off, the LCD number pad that had initially helped draw me in proved to be terrible in comparison to using standard keys, the drivers never seemed to work properly meaning that I had to unplug and re-plug the keyboard in every time the PC was booted in order for the numpad to actually light up, and it simply felt much cheaper than the Logitech (which in truth it was).

Determined this time around to not get stuck with another sub-par keyboard, I decided to put in the hours of research that would hopefully help prevent another purchase like the Saitek (I'm sure their other stuff is quite nice, but the keyboard was a real let down in this case).

The first question that came up was whether or not to stick with the more common 'Rubber Dome' type keyboards used by the majority of people which uses small domes of rubber to push down onto a membrane over a circuit board to identify when a key is pressed (chances are that if you buy a keyboard for less than £50, it's going to be one of these), or to instead go for a 'Mechanical' keyboard where there's a direct switch in each key that will 'Actuate' when pressed.

Oddly enough, around 20-30 years ago, the majority of keyboards WERE Mechanical, with many typists still having fond memories of their old IBM Model M boards (that some still use today), but the advantage of the newer membrane boards was price – they are MUCH cheaper to manufacture compared to mechanical options and for a large percentage of users, they simply don't care that much about how a keyboard is made to pay more than a bare minimum to do the job, hence why mechanical boards had fallen somewhat out of fashion.

The past 5-6 years however have seen a resurgence of mechanical keyboards, often aimed either at the gaming market or for typists who are unsatisfied with the way membrane boards feel.

The decision is not actually that straightforward either, as there are people on both sides of the keyboard fence who will fight their corner to the bitter end about which choice is better, with arguments raging about number of macro functions, placement of keys, even the material of the key caps being used to try to gain an advantage in the debate.

Personally I think it simply comes down to personal choice, there are good and bad points about both types of boards and I very much believe that if you've tried both types and don't have an obvious preference after using them, then you should arguably go for the cheapest board that feels comfortable and not give a damn what anyone else thinks.

In my case, having used membrane boards for the past 7-10 years I've found their lifespan to be a key issue here, with many boards simply not performing anywhere near well enough after a relatively short space of time and requiring replacement within a few years - something that tends not to be an issue with mechanical boards due to their higher price and frequently stronger build quality.

After much to-ing and fro-ing I decided to go down the mechanical route this time.

The next major decision was what type of switches I wanted in my keyboard.

Whilst there are a variety of different switch types available (such as Buckling Spring, ALPS, Topres etc) the most common type found tend to be 'Cherry MX' switches, which come in a number of different colours all of which have their own specific features and responses, and this was the switch type I focused on.

There are around approx 7-9 different colour types of Cherry switches, but out of these there are really 4 main colours that you'll find in the majority of boards – Red, Black, Blue and Brown.

Both the Blue and Brown switches feature 'tactile' feedback, that is, that they give a slight 'bump' feeling at the point that they key actuates, with the Blues being firmer than the Browns whilst also providing a distinctive 'clicking' noise at the same time, whilst the Browns are silent at this point.

The Red and Black switches are 'linear', and unlike the Blue or Brown switches, they feature no bump at the actuation point and are both relatively quiet, with the key difference being the amount of pressure needed to activate the switch with the Blacks requiring more than the Reds.

One of the commonly heard things at this point is that certain switches are only really good for certain things, e.g. if your focus is purely on typing you should go ideally with the Blue switches or maybe the Browns, whereas for gamers that require quick key presses, then the Red or Brown will likely be the optimal choice (Browns are very much a middle ground between Blue and Red). Personally I again feel that this comes down to personal taste, in that I've seen plenty of people saying that they love typing on Red switches and hated Blues, and also that some 'Pro' gamers use Blue switches rather than Reds in a number of games...

I however immediately discounted the Blue switches because of their inherent clicking noise and general loudness in use along with their firmer activation point and bump. I also ruled out the Black switches after hearing a number of reports from people saying that they felt fatigued when using the keys for long periods due to their harder actuation pressure requirements.

This left me with a direct choice between Brown and Red switches, and in truth I must have spent 3-4 days agonising over which would likely be the best choice for my requirements. In truth I could have done either way, but in the end decided that because the majority of my time was spent gaming (either on World of Tanks or numerous FPS/TPS games) with occasional typing thrown in, that I would go with the Red switches over the Browns.

At this point you'd probably think that most of the hard work would be done, but then you enter the next minefield in regards to keyboard manufacturer, size and style of keyboard, prices, reliability, accessibility and even things like lighting and key placement!

After more research there were around 6-10 different manufacturers who consistently got good feedback and reviews for comfort of use, build quality and longevity and it was simply a case of narrowing the search down from there.

The easiest step here was to focus first on my budget which at £70 removed probably 5-6 manufacturers straight-away as even their more budget friendly options were outside my reach (which lead to the removal from consideration of very well regarded and popular names like Filco and Das Keyboard).

I also sadly had to remove Rosewill from my options due to not being able to find a UK supplier and simply not wanting the hassle of importing from the US (or having a US layout board either). Frankly, I think this is a major oversight on Rosewill's part as I'm sure there would be strong interest from the UK market in their products, but clearly this is not part of their current thoughts and thus I looked elsewhere.

I also removed all options that didn't provide a full 104 key layout, which removed 'TKL' or 'Ten Key Less' options (basically the numpad is removed) from the equation, and due to the budget restrictions the LED back lighting also had to make way (as I don't type in total darkness anyway and know my way round the keyboard regardless it was simply a nice 'extra').

In the end it came down to a choice between two suppliers – Cooler Master, and Ducky.

Cooler Master's offering was the CM Storm Quickfire XT, whereas Ducky were providing the DK2108 'Zero'.

Both are well regarded manufacturers, both boards look to be well built and likely to do a good job for my requirements, but in the end the stronger reputation of the Ducky along with what I felt was a slightly better key layout and key font decided the issue, and the DK2108 was duly ordered.

It arrived today, and in fact this whole article is written using it, and so far I have to say that I'm VERY impressed with it. It's definitely taking a bit of time to adjust to, having using membrane boards for the past decade, but the smoothness and accuracy of the key presses, the comfortable layout and even the lovely sound the board makes whilst typing is a genuine improvement on the previous boards.

I've had no problems so far whilst gaming either (even if it's just been approx 2 hours on WoT), and getting rid of the 'mushy' feeling I got from the other membrane boards is absolutely an improvement.

I also have no regrets about ordering the Red switches either, and whilst it would be unfair to dismiss the Brown switches having never used them, I can't see how I'd genuinely prefer the tactile bump in the majority of applications, nor would I want to give up the absolute smoothness of the Red keys either. Maybe at some point in the future I'll get round to giving a Brown switch board a good test, but for now I'm perfectly happy with the decision to go with the Reds.

I'm also not going to go into further detail on the Ducky board because there are already numerous reviews out there that will probably convey the necessary information better, and more accurately than I would, focusing on key features etc, but I certainly wouldn't hesitate to recommend the board to anyone currently on the hunt for a new mechanical board themselves.

The price clearly ISN'T cheap, and I'm fairly sure that there's probably a number of people sat there shaking their heads in disgust and shock at the thought of someone spending £70 on a keyboard, when they're perfectly happy with the £5 budget board they picked up at their local retailer (e.g. Asda/Walmart), but so far I think it's worth paying the extra for.

The build quality is excellent, with strong, thick plastic throughout. and on a bizarre and relatively irrelevant side note, this is vastly more reassuring to have to hand in the event of a zombie outbreak than the £5 budget special would be!

Considering that I've probably paid close to £75 on the previous two boards over the past 4-5 years, then assuming the Ducky lasts that long, I've certainly not lost out financially, plus I'll have had the benefit of a nicer, more accurate and more comfortable board in the meantime.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Short Term Thinking or Simple Common Sense?

The close of this seasons Premier League marks the end of an era, with the decision by Sir Alex Ferguson to retire from his post in charge of Manchester United. Having been at the helm for 26 years now, Ferguson has brought them unequalled domestic success, a trophy cabinet that will take hours if not days to clean properly, and he's also been responsible for bringing through some of the best home-grown players of this generation with the likes of Scholes, Beckham, Giggs and Neville.

Some say that a key component to his success has been that he's been given the time and opportunity to do this when the more modern approach is to simply wield the axe and bring in a new appointment to replace a manager who isn't performing up to expectations (however ridiculous they may be).

I think it's fair to say that there's definitely a grain of truth in there, but is not quite as straightforward as is often suggested.

The most recent 'victim' of the aforementioned axe-wielding has been Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, having been in charge for 3.5 years, he's brought them a domestic title and an FA cup (and a Community Shield, but that doesn't really count for much), which on paper doesn't sound like a bad return, but then you look at the Man City squad and think that surely this is the least they should expect with that calibre of players.

Managers like Ferguson, as well as former players such as Rodney Marsh have come out in support of Mancini saying he should have been given more time and they don't agree with the 'short-term' approach that seems to be king in the game these days.

Yet this seems to be at odds with many of the views from those who've worked with Mancini over the past few seasons, with comments such as “arrogant, vain and self-centred” coming from a former kit-man who had nothing but good things to say about the club in general, and “Basically, Mancini just ignored players from day one. He was the manager, he made decisions, he made no attempt to have any sort of relationship with the players, didn't take them under his wing” from ex-City player Danny Mills.

Let's also not forget the notable 'bust-ups' Mancini has had with players like Tevez and Balotelli, one of which lead to punches being thrown on training ground, and the other with a player flying home for a few months holiday with the manager's claims of him “never playing here again” being made to look weak and laughable when he did in fact return and play again...

These issues didn't just stop with players and coaching staff either, they apparently carried on upwards towards the execs at Man City, especially as they felt that Mancini hadn't done enough work on youth development during his tenure and was cited as one of the key reasons behind the decision to remove him as manager.

It's fairly hard to argue on this score as the last players to really come through from the City academy and play any significant number of games have been Micah Richards, Daniel Sturridge and Michael Johnson, with only Richards still at the club (and struggling to get games as well), and instead the process has been to buy top class players that others may have already brought through such as Aguero and Balotelli.

However there is a highly salient point to consider here, the Man City owners wanted success, they wanted titles and they had the money (and were happy to spend it) to buy world class players in this pursuit, which left a very fine line to tread as a manager.

Do you spend the cash and get a player who will help your title chances right here, right now, or do you take the gamble that a younger player will be able to step up to that level consistently whilst risking performances if they don't?

I'm fairly sure that if youth had been chosen and results weren't as strong as expected, then the axe would have come much sooner, with statements about how the manager had funds to develop the team but chose not (or similar) being thrown around as justification for the decision...

Just look at Aston Villa this season and Paul Lambert's decision to focus on bringing through youth (and cutting the wage bill asap) very nearly cost them their place in the Premier League, and whilst Man City may have had a much stronger squad to support a few young players coming in, chances are that it would still have affected their trophy and title chances along the way – and that wouldn't have suited the City board either...

In some ways Mancini was in a no-win situation on this score, but I also get the feeling that if he'd been more approachable and receptive, he could have had a sensible discussion with the City board over the past couple of seasons in regards to this and come up with an agreed strategy that suited all parties, but it appears that his ego got the better of him and this does not seem to have happened (at least the City board aren't suggesting it did).

So when you take all these factors into account, was the decision to remove him purely 'short-term' thinking, or was it in fact a rational choice based on the City board deciding that there were simply too many issues at once to allow it to continue, and as they clearly didn't feel that they could resolve these problems with Mancini going forwards, then his departure as manager became a foregone conclusion.

If anything, the time given to Mancini is far better than has been shown to managers like Roberto Di Matteo, Brian McDermott, and Nigel Adkins with the former being sacked after just 8 months despite having won two major trophies and then winning 7, drawing 3 and losing 2 out their first 12 games of this season which had them sitting in 3rd and only 4 points behind Man City in 1st.

Both McDermott and Adkins were sacked for having the misfortune to have managed to get their clubs promoted into the Premier League, but then having the temerity to not be comfortably safe in mid table despite having generally weaker squads than the competition...

Those sort of decisions are the ones that should be focused on for critical judgement, in those cases the managers hadn't lost the dressing room or alienated the board through unreasonable behaviour, and certainly in the latter 2 cases, staying in the Premier League is one of the hardest tasks for the majority of the clubs outside the top 8 or so teams, so to expect wonders from a newly promoted team is both unfair and unreasonable, especially when you consider that close to 41% of all promoted sides are relegated the same year, with 54% going down within two years.

Does this mean that we should expect 50% of managers from promoted sides to be sacked each season, regardless of how good a job they did to get the team there and whether or not they are the best long term option. rather than simply chopping and changing incessantly?

I can understand less patience from clubs where they have a squad full of world class players that a new manager has managed to make look poor and got them sliding down the league with no improvement in sight, or where there is such tension and concern in the dressing room that the situation quickly becomes untenable (such as it did with Villas-Boas at Chelsea), but beyond this there simply has to be some common sense and patience applied to what is in truth an inexact science.

I very much doubt we'll EVER see another manager achieve the same length of service at a club as we have done with Sir Alex, even Arsene Wenger who has been a fantastic manager for Arsenal over the past 17 years is expected to leave at the end of next season if not sooner, and from then on the years at a club just get lower and lower.

This is likely one of the key reasons that David Moyes has been asked to fill the massive gap left by Ferguson, as his development of players at Everton has been excellent, he's been loyal to them and if he can replicate even a fraction of that success at Man Utd I think that all parties will be happy bunnies, whereas Chelsea are hunting for yet another manager (is that 20 in the last 26 years?)...

In short, until money stops being the driving force behind results in modern day football, then we'll likely continue to see managers being removed after relatively short notice, as it's almost impossible to compete with teams full of multi-million pound international players when you're trying to make the best of a limited budget and desperately hoping that your youth academy churns out the next Rooney or Messi, and until the big wigs in charge at most clubs learn to understand and accept this hard truth and give managers fair and sensible targets and expectations, then the problems – and the sackings will continue...

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Bias on the Box

Well, it's been another interminably long break since my last post, but a combination of illness and disillusionment with the modern game prompted that decision, so my schedule will be very ad-hoc from this point onwards.

Moving onto the topic in question and it's yet again another situation where the 'big' clubs are given preferential treatment over the rest of the league, what am I referring to? Live SKY games of course.

We've all heard about the massive amount of money that's going to be given to clubs based on TV rights, yet some teams are given virtually no coverage by SKY – at least in comparison to the 'big boys'.

This season alone (and discounting ESPN covered games), there is a huge difference between the teams with the table looking like this:

Team Live Games Shown

Liverpool 16
Man City 14
Spurs 14
Arsenal 13
Man Utd 13
Chelsea 10
Everton 10
Newcastle 10
Aston Villa 9
Sunderland 9
West Ham 9
West Brom 7
Fulham 6
Southampton 6
Swansea 6
Norwich 5
Wigan 5
Reading 4
Stoke 4

So great news if you're a Liverpool supporter, (or any of the clubs pushing for a top six finish), not so great news if you're a Reading or Stoke fan (or a side nearer the bottom end of the table).

What's somewhat interesting about this list is that in many ways it's very similar to the stature that most fans hold towards the clubs, and although Man Utd would normally be at the top, they're only 3 games away from Liverpool in pole position.

Now the truly frustrating part about this situation is that fans of ALL premier league clubs pay the same price to view SKY Sports as each other, yet some fans get triple the amount of their teams games shown for their money than others do (4 times more in a Reading/Stoke vs Liverpool comparison).

I can accept that many neutral fans would rather watch Man Utd vs Arsenal than they would Wigan vs Swansea, but the gap between the amount of games shown is just ridiculous in some cases and in my honest opinion – needs changing.

In a more even distribution, each team would have had 8 or 9 games shown so far and this certainly doesn't stop the 'big' games from being shown either. It's simply a case of looking at the fixture list, selecting the key 'big' games first of all (schedule changes accepted), and then working out what's left and how best to give the teams a fair and interesting TV run.

And whilst I'm on the subject, some of the selections need attention in the process. It's all well and good showing Chelsea vs Man City and QPR vs Reading as the Sunday games, but this is also somewhat unfair on the 'smaller' clubs as you only get to watch them against similarly placed teams and not the 'big' clubs.

I'm going to stop there because I'm in danger of making this come across as nothing more than a petulant whine from a Norwich fan dissatisfied with the live games offered this season, but the truth is that I AM dissatisfied with the situation (to the point where I cancelled my SKY Sports subscription some months ago), and it's just one more example of how the league panders to the top teams whilst the rest of us seem to be there to simply 'make up the numbers'....

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

“Ridiculous” Roy and the Liverpool Boys

On the back of some fairly unconvincing performances, Roy Hodgson has released his latest England squad choices, and some things just get more bizarre every time.

Firstly John Terry was selected over Rio Ferdinand for the Euro's (wrongly IMHO), but in the wake of the FA charging Terry over the Anton Ferdinand incident, Terry has since withdrawn from international football therefore surely leaving that space free for Ferdinand? Nope, instead Hodgson apparently told a bunch of travellers on the tube that Ferdinand was done and wouldn't play for England again (shame he didn't bother telling Rio first), and instead called up Ryan Shawcross...

I like Shawcross as a player, and whilst options such as Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are injured, he's not a bad choice as a backup option, but surely Rio's experience and standing in the game offers more to the squad in the short term?

Ryan Bertrand has also received a call to replace the injured Kieran Gibbs, but do we really need three left backs in the squad? We've already got Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines, and whilst Bertrand can arguably be used in a left midfield position as well, it just seems like an unnecessary selection and we could arguably have used another option upfront instead.

There is however a better selection in midfield, with the inclusion of Aaron Lennon, Adam Johnson, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley (amongst others), but we unfortunately see the return of the ineffective James Milner and the horrendous call-up of Jonjo Shelvey!

Seriously, is someone down at Liverpool putting something into Hogdson's water, or is it simply a bizarre attempt to get revenge on Liverpool for dismissing him as manager by trying to prove that their players are good enough but he didn't have time to prove it? The truth is that his Liverpool signings were in the main awful, and not a single one of them merits a regular place there now (if they haven't already been moved on e.g. Poulsen), and most of the Liverpool players he has called up in recent months either aren't good enough (Downing, Kelly, Shelvey) or aren't ready (Sterling).

Shelvey is nowhere near England standard, and if I was unimpressed with Jake Livermore's recent call-up, I'm even more frustrated with this one. I'm all for bringing young talent into the England frame – IF they're good enough (or close to it), and Shelvey doesn't fit into that description in my honest opinion.

I'd rather have seen Rodwell given the call, and hopefully we'll also see Wilshere back to fitness and selection soon as well and we can forget all about this joke of a selection.

Moving onto the forward line and we were treated to Grant Holt's view of Hodgson's management ability with him branding his non-selection as “Ridiculous” and going on to criticise the further lack of call up's for players like Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham (I'm sure I've heard that somewhere before...).

Suffice to say that the outburst didn't help Holt in the selection stakes, with Andy Carroll again being the preferred 'big' man in the front line despite continuing last seasons form of not scoring for his club side (5 games 0 goals so far for West Ham), and having been injured for the past few weeks .

Compare this instead to Holt, who has scored 2 goals in his last 7 league games (nothing amazing to be fair) with both goals coming against 'big' sides in Liverpool and Chelsea. He's proven he's a premiership goalscorer, he's proven he can score against the top teams, but yet again he's not even given a minute's consideration by the England gaffer, and on that point I have to agree with Holt – Ridiculous...

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Fallout from the Euro's

It's been a while since my last article, mainly due to house moving, no internet and taking a short break from writing, but now all the other stuff is sorted I can get back to doing what I enjoy, which in this case is asking what the hell Roy Hodgson is playing at with his latest squad selection.

Having already had to put up with some poor football from a somewhat odd selection at the Euro's, Hodgson has decided to make some changes, and has replaced some of the completely useless players from that tournament – with completely unproven ones instead...

At first glance we see no Stewart Downing in there – hurrah, but who's been selected as his replacement on the left? Adam Lallana...

Now don't get me wrong, I think Lallana is a perfectly decent player from what I've seen of him over the last few years, but it's all been at a lower league level (CCC at best), and therefore I'd have expected him to have needed to have a decent few months in the top flight to show he can perform just as well at this level as he was in the lower leagues. Yet a couple of decent games later and suddenly he gets a call up.

He's then joined in the squad by another surprise addition – Raheem Sterling (replacing Ashley Young). Yet again we have a player who's been given an England call-up, ostensibly on the back of just TWO premier league games where he was good in one of them (vs Man City) and average in the other (vs Arsenal).

Sticking on the wing, James Milner again managed to make the cut (How?), despite looking completely off the pace for most of last season, doing nothing at the Euro's, and further nothing since then. He's a hard worker – great, but how about some quality and attacking threat instead of someone who's good at helping the right back defend?

Whilst I fully understand the logic in removing a couple of under-performing players from the squad, I then expected them to be replaced by players who've shown their ability at this level and arguably are more deserving of a call-up.

Players like Nathan Dyer, Anthony Pilkington, Aaron Lennon, Scott Sinclair, Victor Moses and Matt Jarvis. If any of these guys had been called up I'd have said “Well played Roy”, and given the guy credit for picking players who deserved a shot at playing for their country. Instead we got a completely raw 17 year old and a totally unproven CCC level player.

Moving on from the wing positions, we see further changes in the middle with the return of Michael Carrick, and the selection of Tom Cleverley and Jake Livermore. Well, 2 out of 3 isn't bad Roy!

Carrick should never have been out of the squad, especially after such a good season last year for Man Utd, and Cleverley was also unlucky in my opinion not to have been called up for the Euro's, and whilst his game is still developing, you can clearly see the underlying quality in his games. It's just a shame that this can't be said for the other new midfield inclusion – Jake Livermore.

Whilst Sterling and Lallana are virtually untested in the premiership, at least Livermore has had a bit more game time to showcase his abilities, the problem is that he's never looked anything but average in every game I've seen him in. He's another hard working 'grafter', who may not be especially strong in any area, but he'll run himself into the floor for you.

My issue here is that again there are other players who've either been more impressive or have more experience than he does that haven't even been given a look in, players like Rodwell, B.Johnson, Noble, Nolan, Howson, Gardner, Britton and Surman.

Being fair, it's not an awful inclusion (like Downing) but it's also very uninspiring as well, and a clear indication that the cagey, defensive focused football we've seen so far under Hodgson, has not signs of disappearing any time soon.

There's very little to cheer about as an England fan at the minute as even the recent 5-0 win over Moldova was more down to how shockingly poor the opposition were, than how well we played as a side, a fact which was driven home by the somewhat fortunate 1-1 draw against the Ukraine only yesterday.

At the time I didn't think it was a bad appointment, but the more I see of how things are developing, the more I think I was wrong. It appears we've got yet another 2-4 years of pretty poor international football to come, with yet again players seemingly picked either based on their club side, reputation or some other bizarre reason.

I don't agree that these choices are purely for 'footballing reasons', as if they were, we'd see a very different squad with a number of previously uncapped players being given a fair chance, and other players like Lennon coming back to where they really should be.

We have a number of quality younger players who deserve a shout, as well as a few older heads who've also still got plenty to offer if they aren't overlooked, the problem is by the time we may want to use them, the younger players will be old, and the older players will have retired...

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

From 'Arry to Andre...

Earlier today Spurs announced that Andre Villas-Boas would be the man to replace Harry Redknapp. It's a move that may surprise many after a torrid time at Chelsea, yet a certain percentage of the problem there was down to interference from above along with dissension amongst the players who didn't want to follow his tactics. Rumours even abounded that other coaches were advising the players to ignore his instructions!

Whatever the case may have been, things never really got going at Chelsea for AVB and this is now his chance to prove his detractors wrong and show that he does know what he's on about. The question is whether or not Spurs have the right squad to play his preferred style and tactics...

AVB tends to favour the 4-3-3, with one holding midfielder behind two more centralised ball players/attackers and the wingers flanking a lone front man.

In goal there's a real quandary, with Brad Friedel not at his best last season (and now in his 40's), Cudicini was similarly erratic, and the less said about Gomes the better. Potentially I could see all three keepers being moved on although one may be kept as cover (possibly Gomes due to his age being much lower than the others), and a new face being brought in

Defensively it's a bit of a mixed bag for Spurs. There's no doubt that there's some talented defenders in the squad, but many of the bigger names are also knocking on the wrong side of 30, and particularly with players like Ledley King who struggle to play regularly, there can be more chopping and changing than is good.

Kyle Walker will easily be first choice at right back, although with the sale of Vedran Corluka this week, cover is limited in this area with only Kyle Naughton (who impressed strongly on loan at Norwich this last season) as an out and out right back. Naughton himself is apparently a transfer target of both Aston Villa and Norwich, although his reputed £6 million asking price may be too high for both clubs.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto is again likely to be the first choice left back, although again this is another area where cover is limited, with only really youngster Danny Rose to cover if needed unless the decision has to be made to withdraw Gareth Bale from his more attacking role down the wing.

Centrally it's incredibly tough to call the starters as due to injury virtually all of the central players have suffered reduced playing time. Kaboul arguably improved enough last season to make it tough to leave him on the bench, but with names like Gallas, King and Dawson all competing for a place along with younger options such as Bassong and Caulker (who played very well on loan at Swansea) he could just as easily miss out. If AVB goes for youth over experience, we could well see some surprising choices in this area at the cost of 'big name' players.

In the defensive midfield role you'd argue that it would have to be Scott Parker, but AVB appears to prefer using younger players where possible, and potentially options like Sandro or the returning Tom Huddlestone could be considered instead of England stalwart.

Moving slightly forwards of this you have the ball playing midfielders, and assuming Spurs can hang onto both of them, expect to see Luka Modric and Rafael Van Der Vaart take these places. Steven Pienaar and the aforementioned Huddlestone or Sandro could also be used if injuries occur, but it will be a key job for Spurs to hang onto their first choices, although this could be a tough ask if strong deals are on the table for their services elsewhere.

Onto the wings and it's another obvious couple of choices, with Gareth Bale on the Left and Aaron Lennon on the right. Lennon however will need to improve his goal tally to stay there as it will likely be a more attacking role than he's previously been asked to play.

Cover in these wing positions is pretty limited however, with Pienaar potentially being an option, but only really leaving out of favour options David Bentley and Giovanni Dos Santos beyond this. Frankly I can't see Bentley getting anywhere near the first team, although Dos Santos could finally be given a chance to impress but again it would need injuries to do so. There's also the young talent of Andros Townsend, but he's likely to be loaned out again instead.

Centrally is where the key weakness in the forward line is going to be, as with Jermaine Defoe the only recognised striker on the books, cover is already non-existent and he really doesn't suit the role he'd likely be asked to play in a typical AVB formation. I expect this will be the first area in which a new signing will be made, and again it looks like Defoe's talent will be sat on the bench when this happens as well, which is a real shame for a great goalscorer.

Assuming this will be the case, then arguably AVB should look to move Defoe on for a good price, and then bring in 2 quality central strikers who can play how he wants them to. Adebayor would be the most obvious option, but whether or not the Spurs board would be willing to increase their wage budget to accommodate his expected demands is another matter entirely.

Potential First XI under AVB:

New Keeper

Walker, Kaboul, Caulker, Assou-Ekotto


Modric, Van der Vaart

Lennon, New Striker, Bale

New Look Liverpool

With Brendan Rogers now installed as the new Liverpool boss, a lot of questions are being asked about how he'll line his side up this season. Personally I think he'll maintain the shape he used with Swansea, he'll just have arguably better players doing it in most cases. Here's what I think will happen, feel free to tell me if you think differently:

Formation: 4-2-3-1

Keeper and Back Four

Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Enrique

Hard to see any changes here unless Rogers feels that one of either Agger or Skrtel isn't up to the job and potentially offers playing time to Seb Coates who may fit the passing mould better.

Johnson and Enrique both provide attacking options down the flanks and Reina is still a top class keeper (occasional blunder accepted).

Defensive Midfielders

Rogers used the combination of Leon Britton and Joe Allen in this role at Swansea, neither of whom are particularly strong physically, but both have the ability to pass a ball, suggesting that strength isn't a key attribute here for Rogers.

If this is the case, I would expect to see a midfield two of Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam, although both Jay Spearing and Jordan Henderson may be able to offer competition here for Charlie Adam's spot.

Attacking Midfielder

At Swansea it was Gylfi Sigurdsson in this role (at least for the 2nd half of the season), and rumours are that it's a two horse race between Liverpool and Spurs for his signature. That being said, Liverpool already have the perfect option in their squad for this role in Steven Gerrard.

He showed in the Euro's that there's still life in the old dog, although how long he can keep this up and avoid injury is another matter, which would make the Sigurdsson signing even more sensible going forwards to account for this happening.

Beyond this, Maxi Rodriguez could be offered a lifeline, as could maybe Jonjo Shelvey (although I think Shelvey struggles at this level), but it's not the strongest area on the pitch squad wise.


At Swansea it was Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair, Liverpool's issue here is that apart from a floundering Stewart Downing and a very young Raheem Sterling – they don't really have many options, however there is a caveat to this. Scott Sinclair was initially a striker when at Chelsea, who's since been moved out more towards the wing, which helps pay dividends when he cuts inside and attacks, so there's another option Liverpool can consider here – Luis Suarez

Suarez had a very mixed season last year, but showed one key factor – he's not prolific enough to play as a main striker, he works best behind a front man or slightly on the wing – exactly where I think he should be played.
That leaves the other side to consider and here I've gone for one of Liverpool's 'forgotten' men – Joe Cole.

Returning from his loan at Lille, Cole is arguably back to his best, and could offer a great attacking option on either wing, although I'd argue he may be best on the right, as this means Suarez can cut inside and attack on his favoured foot on the opposite side.

With Cole's ability and crossing on the right, and Suarez causing chaos on the left, it's going to leave more room upfront centrally for...

Andy Carroll.

Was there any doubt I'd select him here? The reasoning is simple – he's a target man and they don't really have anyone else anyway. Bellamy appears to be leaving shortly, Kuyt has already gone which leaves young options Dani Pacheco and Nathan Eccleston the only other players in contention......

Frankly I think this is one of the key areas Liverpool need to spend in, as if something does happen to Carroll either through injury (or he performs as he did for the majority of last season), they have no real options to change things around. Giroud would have been a perfect signing here, but Arsene Wenger has already wrapped that deal up, although Emile Heskey is apparently interested... (Shudder)....

Expected XI under Rogers

Glen Johnson
Joe Cole

Bench from:
Eccleston/ New striker

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

That's Entertainment - Or is it?

With England crashing out yet again in the quarter final stages of the Euro's playing a brand of rigid, defensive (and fairly negative) football, for me it's brought the end to a season whereby I'm beginning to question what the purpose of football in the modern game actually is.

I've always seen football as being a form of entertainment, where although I want to see my team win, I primarily want to be entertained for the hour and half of the actual game. Yet with a growing re-emergence of a more defensive game in order to blunt the abilities of technically superior opponents, I'm struggling to get this entertainment more and more.

The problem is simple, managers are judged upon results - you don't get the results and you're out of a job. This has lead to more and more managers being unwilling to take a 'risk' and actually go out to play football against 'better' opponents, and instead they have lined their team up in an ultra defensive, counter-attacking manner, whereby they are happy to take a draw, but are mainly looking to snatch a win via set pieces such as corners or free kicks instead of through the actual passage of normal play.

There's no doubting that this can be effective, Chelsea won the Champions League final in this way, as did Inter Milan when they took on Barcelona in the 2010 semi-final, and indeed a couple of premiership teams in recent years have keenly taken to this way of playing the game.

I can share some sympathy with teams on a very tight budget who can't afford to bring in world class players to enable them to play a more stylish or attacking game who therefore use this style of play to get results and move up the tables to hopefully better finances, but to see sides like Chelsea who have spent an absolute fortune on some of the biggest names in the game play like this is somewhat embarrassing.

This becomes even more embarrassing when you then see sides like Swansea set out to play in the same manner as your Barcelona's and Arsenal's, but on a fraction of the budget teams like Chelsea have at their disposal. Why can they do it with their limited funds, yet the big spenders sit back and 'park the bus'?

In a troubled economy, we have to choose wisely how to spend our limited income in regards to entertainment, and I personally couldn't justify spending £40-50 to go and watch a team defend for 90 minutes. I want to see attacking football from BOTH sides, a game where one team may have the edge, but you see a variety of play from both including strong defending, slick passing, cool finishing and a bit of flair now and then.

Quite how season ticket holders at sides such Stoke can justify their expenditure is beyond me, as I wouldn't pay even a quarter of their prices to watch the football they put on display most weeks.

Maybe it's because I'm less concerned with the result, and more interested in the quality of play and level of entertainment on show. All that being said, as a Norwich fan I'm all too aware of what sticking to this ethos of playing football can cost as was shown during our 04/05 season when back in the premiership for the first time in a decade, where we looked to play good football even at the expense of results and ended up being relegated by doing this (along with a couple of other factors).

There has to be a degree of temperance in the way the manager sets out the side, but simply assuming the opposition are better and putting 10 men in defence isn't the way to go about it. I want to see managers actually coach their team to play 'better' football, instead of just parking their coach on the pitch...