Two years ago Liverpool appointed Roy Hodgson as their new manager. At the time Hodgson had been very successful at Fulham and had taken them all the way to the Europa Cup Final. Hodgson would go on to having one of the most shortest reigns as manager at the club and was shown the door after only half a season in charge and replaced by Kenny Dalglish.
In recent days I have heard pundits and fans criticise Hodgson for his signings in that short period and the name that keeps coming up as the prime example is that of Paul Konchesky. So are we to believe that Hodgson is being damned for one signing that did not work out and are we also saying that all other managers never make poor signings?
Sir Alex Ferguson - now closing in on 25 years as manager at Manchester United has signed players such as Eric Djemba-Djemba and Juan-Sebastian Veron and I bet that are not many United fans out there that would admit to either of these two players doing any better than Konchesky did at Anfield. Let us not forget either one certain Italian goalkeeper by the name of Massimo Taibi who signed for United in 1999 for £4.5 million. He was signed to replace Peter Schmeichel and to compete for the first time shirt with Mark Bosnich (another flop) and Raimond van der Gouw. Just four appearances in and following a distastrous performance at home to Southampton where he became dubbed as "The Blind Venetian" and a 0-5 defeat for United at Chelsea Taibi was sent packing back to Italy on loan and would never play at Old Trafford again.
So Hodgson was sacked and replaced by "King Kenny" who had been out of mainstream management for over ten years since a disappointing spell as manager at Celtic. Dalglish then proceded to spend John Henry's treasures chest on players such as Luis Suarez who has made an impact in more ways than one but also on Andy Carroll (only now seemingly just beginning to find any form), Charlie Adam who perhaps looks out of his depth and Jordan Henderson for a crazy £20 million from Sunderland. To cap it off he signed Stewart Downing from Aston Villa for an undisclosed fee who in 36 appearances for Liverpool this season scored no goal and supplied zero assists. Dalglish spent more money in the first three months back as manager than he did in his entire career there the first time around.
What Dalglish achieved in the past as both a player and manager at Anfield was superb and he had continued success at Blackburn Rovers. But we have heard before when certain managers names get touted about these days we hear "He has been out of the game too long - the game has moved on". Not helped by a seemingly negative attitude towards the press Dalglish has never been really portrayed as Mr Happy. Perhaps Liverpool fans would have preferred to have remembered him for what he had done previously with the club in the 70's and 80's rather than now - it is really tough when a former hero comes back and then things for whatever reason just do not work out.
Some will say that they did - Liverpool did win the League Cup and reach the FA Cup final - but it was once again the league position that was getting ever worse with this season getting surpassed by an improving Everton not helping matters at all either. It has now been an astonishing 22 years since Liverpool were last crowned champions of England and they have never yet won the Premier League. They did win the UEFA Cup in 2001 in an amazing game against Alaves and of course winning the Champions League in 2005 in such dramatic circumstances too against AC Milan proves that despite such a dip in domestic league form, they were still a great enough club to lift themselves for the very special occasions and lift the top European trophy.
There is no argument from me - Liverpool are and will always be a massive club and it is still far more likely that one day they will bounce back to challenging for the Premier League title again rather than go the way of lets say Leeds United. Even in that possibly worse case scenario their fans will continue to sing "You'll never walk alone" forever and will still pack the stadium. But I don't see that happening at all, its more of a question of when is this stagnating period ever going to come to an end?
So King Kenny is now gone and instead of simply targeting one particular man to replace him confusion has once again reigned supreme! Apparently Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers turned down the opportunity to be interviewed initially when he became aware that he was just one on a long list of potential candidates. Then it is all over the news that Wigan boss Roberto Martinez has been interviewed and has agreed terms - then we hear nothing. Then all of a sudden, Martinez is out of the frame, other names are being mentioned again such as Andreas Villas Boas and even Rafa Benitez - and then in a wink of any eye suddenly Rodgers has been interviewed, accepted and appointed.
Rodgers is still a young manager and although he has done magnificently well at Swansea, lets not forget that he was swiftly shown the door previously at Reading. He comes across as a real likeable manager and maybe that is one of the reasons why he fitted the bill. When Roy Hodgson was appointed I thought it was an excellent choice by Liverpool and how badly did that turn out. I hope for both Liverpool and Rodgers that we are not about to see a repeat performance.
Will Liverpool fans give him a fair chance? He is following King Kenny lets not forget and one "bad" signing or decision that the fans (or current players) do not like could easily find Rodgers facing an uphill struggle as early as Hodgson did. How patient are the owners going to be? How much of a re-building program do they see at the club or is Rodgers remit to work with what is currently there with just minor adjustments but just make it work better? The style of football that he got Swansea playing was also a massive reason no doubt that got him noticed and eventually got him the job. Was he always the number one choice though as with such a long list of candidates it really got messy.
With the League Cup success on its own, the club are back in Europe next season playing in the Europa League on Thursday evenings but surely their goal is to get back into the Champions League and be a major challenger for the Premier League. But right now they find themselves behind the two Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea just to start with so they are going to have to finish higher than at least two of those of clubs just to get back in the elite competition.
It must be really difficult for long time Liverpool fans especially to take in what has happened in these past few years. I guess it wasn't too bad finishing second, third or even fourth because it meant they were still right up there and qualifying too for the Champions League. Nowadays and without the aid of cup competitions, they cannot even get into the Europa League via their league positions. Having Liverpool right back at the top end of the table challenging the very best can only be a good thing not just for Liverpool but for the Premier League as they represent the possibility of a new twist now coming into play if they can come anywhere close to achieving this goal. The more competitive that it is at the top is going to make the league even more entertaining and even more great games and battles.
Much of this article to keen Liverpool fans will be read as "You are not telling us anything that we don't already know" - but this article is written as a reminder to all of those fans as to what could be coming back to them should they get it right. Stop confusing everybody with managerial decisions, stick with your man - make it happen, you have made your decision now - make it work!
A couple of weeks ago, Sky ran a short documentary with a reporter going undercover in both the Ukraine and Poland to expose some of the racism and hooligan threat that visiting fans to Euro 2012 could expect to receive this June.
Now the BBC have followed suit with this weeks Panorama showing more footage of fighting fans - some of which were supporting the same club team. The programme also showed lack of segregation (if any) between fans; stewards, marshals and even police reluctant to help in any shape or form. Also shown was a government minister who completely denied that there were any problems going on inside Ukraine football stadiums!
Whatever your personal plans are this summer I would not be planning a trip to the Euro's regardless. I have heard rumours of hotel prices going through the roof and even to just pitch a tent is very expensive as the profiteers take over once again.
But who would want to go anyway when it does not take that much to realise the general feelings of the people in most countries in Eastern Europe. I know people from Estonia, Poland, Ukraine, Serbia and Croatia who are all now living in the UK but maintain the same strong and deep racial feelings towards ethnic nationalities. So is it a surprise to me when I see the same thing being highlighted in this documentary? It is one thing to just under your breath show your true colours and many people will just be full of talk and nothing more. But when we see gangs of these Eastern Europeans seemingly not afraid to show this, go virtually unopposed in and around stadiums actually carrying out these acts of violence and collectively doing Nazi salutes, then it is plain to see that there is a lot to worry about over these next coming weeks.
English fans are likely to be targeted purely for being English. What the English are perceived as by many is having a reputation for violence themselves which if recent past history has gone to show is usually brought on by too much drink and too much sun. English fans might well be predominantly white but the race hate slogans seen by both Polish and Ukraine fans is for white power but coming from just one country.
Looking further ahead and the World Cup in 2018 is in Russia. I think that we might start to hear a lot about many Russian people's views and outlooks pretty soon too. If these Euro's turn out to be a disaster as far as off the field events are concerned could there even be a case for Russia to be fully examined by FIFA before allowing another tournament in the same part of the world to go ahead? Only time will tell on that one but lets see what actually happens first next month before looking further down the line to six years time.
Much of the recordings on the Panorama programme were shocking to say the least but what bothered me just as much was not only the denial of the authorities that it is actually happening but the complete lack of assistance from stewards and the police who just seemed to sit back and watch. That could even be deemed to be a show of support for these people carrying out these deeds or at the very least one which shows they do not really care or can be bothered. I don't know if the stadiums will be segregated in the Euros but if they are not it just adding to the problems that are right in their face and it is all a recipe for potential disaster.ALL OTHER ARTICLES RELATING TO EURO 2012 WILL APPEAR IN THE NEW BLOG - EUR0 2012 - WHICH IS ALSO NOW LISTED IN THE DROP DOWN BLOG LIST AT THE TOP OF ALL PAGES ON THIS SITE
Look to the left of this writing - recognise it? It is the Union Flag - many used the term Union Jack but that phrase is only supposed to be used when it as aboard ships. Also note the red diagonals on the bottom half of the flag. The red diagonal in the bottom left quarter is nearer to the centre and on the right it is closer to the right edge than to the centre. If your flag is the opposite you have it the wrong way up.
So, I have been watching the Olympic Torch Relay and they have now gone from England into Wales. In the first week from Cornwall to the Welsh border, English people were all waving this flag - also recognised as the British flag and NOT the English flag - the red cross of St.George as seen these days being waved by English football fans.
On crossing the border what do we now see? Nearly as many Welsh flags as British ones! What is going on here? Since when were these Olympics not British but Welsh? It does not matter whether you are Welsh, Scottish, Irish or English - we all have our own flags and when competing as those individual parts of Great Britain in events such as football and rugby etc then by all means those flags should be used. But these are the Olympic Games and for this we all represent one team and that is Great Britain for which the flag above is the British flag and no other!
The BBC have just announced that they have secured the same TV package that they have now for another four years which means more of Hansen, Lawrenson, Shearer and Lineker moans and sarcasm.
The reason why I mention this is because of course the season has just finished so no more Match of the Day until August. So, I thought that I would make up for it with a good old rant of the day to take its place seeing as right now it is Saturday evening when the programme would normally be on . It is possible that this rant is going to be affected by the weather because in the UK right now we are having a very warm snap. No time to even adjust – it has just gone from three months of rain and cold (and winter was before that) to just hot and humid.
So seeing as I started on the subject of Saturday night TV that is where the initial part of this rant is going to take me. In the UK there are two major free to watch TV channels and they are the BBC and ITV. There are others such Channels 4 and 5 and others if you have a digi-box but these are the big two. On the BBC all night long we had the Eurovision Song Contest (more on that in a bit) and on ITV the live friendly game between Norway and England. After the game was the news and after that was guess what? Highlights of the same bloody match!
I understand the need to show the England matches live but lets get this into perspective – it was a “friendly” - who cares! Yes, it was new England manager Roy Hodgson's first game in charge – so what? Then we see the team and some of the players included in the line-up are not even in the squad for Euro 2012 – what is that all about? There is another England friendly or “warm up game” next Saturday before the team fly out to Poland – and play their games in Ukraine (doh!) which I have written about before. Next Saturday England are playing Belgium. So is there any reason for the selection of Norway and Belgium? The so-called experts will say most definitely as England's group includes Sweden (Scandinavian connection) and France which of course borders Belgium. So are they trying to tell us that by playing Norway we will learn something about playing Sweden and by playing Belgium it will us when we play France?
Friendlies as they are right now should just be banned – period. I can understand the need for warm up matches to get the squad functioning together but why not play them behind closed doors on the training fields? We, as the viewing public gain nothing by watching them at all. A team that lets say has six friendlies and wins them all 5-0 could still very easily go into a tournament and lose every game – England at times have been past masters at this. I also do not want to hear this crap about players needing to play in front of crowds to get used to it – we are talking about the cream of England's players here that are used to playing in front of big crowds at stadiums such as Old Trafford, Anfield and in fact every other stadium in both the Premier League and probably most of the Championship than were present in the game at Norway.
Is this rant happening because of events at Wembley this afternoon because the team that I follow lost in the play-off final to Huddersfield? Read my previous article on this page and you will see that I actually predicted what would happen. The Blades had no real goal threat and were beaten by the better side. The fact that it went to penalties was the nearest we have come to winning one of these damn play-offs and we are still to score a goal (apart from the ones scored in the shoot-out). For Huddersfield to miss their first three penalties then surely whoever the opposition are they are going to take advantage of this and win – not our boys! What is even more concerning is the fact that the five elected kickers for both teams contained players that took the worst spot kicks amongst every other player in both teams. When it went to sudden death, both teams – now using the other players that I guess did not want to be selected originally stepped up and delivered with perfect precision. For it to go to the two keepers to decide the fate of promotion really hurts. Neither keeper could have ever guessed that they would be taking a spot-kick themselves. Of course they scored and we missed and for once I am not blaming a player for blazing a ball over the cross-bar – he was our goalkeeper, for him it is most natural thing to do when striking the ball hard is to see it elevate quickly. It was a shockingly bad game and yes the heat did play a factor for sure but to decide a play-off on penalties is as bad as deciding the Champions League Final on them if not worse. Next season we will welcome Crawley Town to Bramall Lane where as Huddersfield will entertain the likes of Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Blackburn and Wolves to name a few.
It is rather ironic that “God” should mention penalty kicks in these past few days shortly after Chelsea's triumph last weekend. I wonder if also knows that their ladies team lost in their FA Cup Final today to Birmingham on penalties as well. I am of course talking about none other than Sepp Blatter who suddenly asked for help in trying to think of other ways in ending the game other than this cruel way. I have already read some crazy and not too serious ideas elsewhere but the answer is so simple, it has been talked about before but never implemented – I do not know why.
I am not talking about American style shoot-outs where the players have ten seconds to score and start by dribbling the ball from the half-way line. I am not talking about corner counts, possession percentages or even silver or golden goals.
The only way to do this and make it so the game finishes with the players playing the game and one where is a decisive result at the end of extra time is to make the players take penalties at the end of 90 minutes should the scores be level. Call it what you will – a half a goal if you like but it then means that entering extra time the two teams can never be level again and once the 120 minutes is up we have a winner. Just to make it more clear if you are not getting this concept just yet and I will use today's game as an example. At 90 minutes Huddersfield and Sheffield United are level at 0-0. The full time whistle blows and immediately the penalty shoot-out takes place. Huddersfield win the shoot-out and therefore now technically half a goal up going into extra time. If the Blades were then to score in extra time they would then be half a goal up but the two sides could never again be level and when the final whistle goes the game is finished as a normal match and not without a penalty shoot-out. It would also change the pattern of the game. United would go into extra time now knowing that they must score to win the match. If Huddersfield score they have to score twice.
Is this so plainly simple and obvious? Why does it feel that I am the only one seeing this? I am sure if you asked most football fans if they preferred this outcome they would say yes. It would certainly make extra time a lot more exciting as you could no longer have a position where a team is playing for penalties and one team is always going to be on the back foot with the other desperate to score.
Coming back to our TV schedule tonight – if you have the pleasure of NOT living anywhere in Europe then you may well have escaped the most corrupt annual show that has been on TV here since I can remember. Unless one day they decide to change it from Eurovision to “Worldvision” you are the lucky ones.
For those of you reading this you have not got a clue what I am talking about let me give you a brief fill in and what we suffer that makes me embarrassed to be classified as a “European” these days.
In essence, this is a TV show which is a song contest. It is all supposed to be about the song, not who is singing and how pretty she is or which country she is representing. With 25 nations competing in the final (we even have semi-finals now because we have so many countries now with all the break-ups of the former Soviet republics and Baltic States) so we have to suffer for the first three hours song after song being sung by each of the countries in the final.
In general, I do not even watch this part of the show although I did catch a glimpse of what looked like five very elderly ladies dressed up deliberately as old spinsters that were representing Russia of all countries – it was quite unbelievable. The last hour of the show is the bit that needs to be watched and even though it remains cringe-worthy in more ways than one. After the last song has been performed there is a period in the show where the audience are entertained and all of Europe is now voting for their favourite “song”. The golden rule here is that for example if I rang up to vote living in the UK I can vote for whoever I like but because I am in the UK I am not allowed to vote for my own country. This rule in its simplest state sounds fair enough but let me just think this through – how many Polish, Italians, Serbs, Croatians – even Russians these days now live in the UK? None of them are going to ring up to find out that unfortunately they cannot vote for the UK – it does not bother them at all. They want to vote for their country – a country that they are not actually living in so this rule is a waste of time!
(Left - The full Results of Euro Vision 2012 - you going to need this blow this up by clicking it)
Remember I said this contest is supposed to be about the song – not the performer and definitely not which country they are from. It is therefore amazing to watch the votes coming in from lets say Norway and each year they give the highest marks to Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Its even worse now with all the nations that were once behind the Iron Curtain. Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Belarus and the Ukraine have got a nice little you scratch our back and we will scratch yours going on. Do you think that Turkey are going to give Greece anything – hell no! Do you think Cyprus are going to Greece top marks – hell yes! Even Portugal and Spain look after one another but the weirdest one I think because of what happened just twenty years ago is what happens between the Baltic nations. All the machine guns and war zones are certainly now a thing of the past and Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia always give one another the top marks. Romania look after Moldova and vice versa and there are many more pockets like this all over Eastern Europe in particular.
So where does this leave nations such as the UK? You guessed it – right at the bottom of the heap lucky to score any points off of anybody. Ireland sometimes give us a few (and vice versa) but that is about it. This contest would be much better if nobody knew which country was being represented by which song and then and only then would people genuinely vote for the song that they liked (although it still does not completely solve the problem of the good looking man or woman singing it). Do you think the UK ever get even one miserly point from France? No chance!
This so called competition is just a political vote that outlines which countries actually like one another and in most cases just voting for their neighbours. If England and Scotland were in this I cannot see it working the same way between these two though! I cannot understand why the UK bother entering it – to make matters worse the four countries that invest the most money into it include the UK which allows them a free pass into each years final – stop blowing our cash please as we already know the rest of Europe do not like us.
If it do go on to being World Vision then the USA might even find it even more difficult to pick up as many votes as we do! Can you imagine if Euro 2012 was played out in this way or any other major sporting event? On the basis of what this years Eurovision has told me is that Sweden are going to be the most popular team playing in this tournament. The girl that won representing Sweden did not even do anything new – in fact she reminded me of Kate Bush from about 35 years ago!
It is worrying though in all seriousness what the Eurovision voting does reveal about the UK. We are for sure one of the most disliked nations in the whole continent. People from all over Europe though will still watch our Premier League and actually buy our music when they do not have to actually vote on it. A recent series of documentaries on British TV are also showing the very dark side of both Poland and the Ukraine and the fact that hooliganism and racism is still rife there. Because of this countries reputation of one side having a stiff upper lip and on the other being filled with gangs of lager drinking thugs that go on the rampage after a bit too much sun and a bit too much to drink then our case is not helped and we are targeted. Although there are still some problems here, the days are long gone when grounds were filled with hatred and working class young men looking to relieve some energy with violence on a Saturday afternoon. Football has done its bit in working hard in these past few years in trying to provide fans with a safe environment to go and watch a game again and make it more a family affair. The amount of women and children in English grounds these days is higher than it has been for many years.
This was firstly achieved by out-pricing the bulk of hooligan element. I for one believe that is has gone way too far the other way now as the cost to go to a game is just silly money in general. I can remember years ago watching baseball or American football and thinking how safe and family orientated their stadiums appeared to be. The only problem was that the Americans had a problem in general on their streets with crime galore ranging from shootings, assaults and robberies to name just a few seemingly happening everywhere. In the UK, it was the other way around for the best part with our problems being contained in and around the stadiums but the streets were a reasonably safe place to walk – now Britain is much more like America than ever.
And so I could go with this rant and I know for sure that there are many things that I have mentioned that many people would vehemently disagree with in what I have written here. Am I going to stick to what I have said with conviction? My answer is no, not really which might surprise you and that it is why it is just a rant. Some of the things that I have mentioned I would probably stick to and fight for but with others I am prepared to listen to other views even if they are 100% opposed to my viewpoint. A decent argument could easily make me agree with you if you can make a relevant point – so there you go – I am open to suggestion.
As I write this right now it is approaching 12.30pm on the day of the League 1 Play-Off final. This year this game has more meaning to me being a Blades fan as they are one of the two teams competing in it for a place in next years Championship.
It has been quite a while since I have been to a live game but I still have memories dating back many years. I recall watching Sheffield United win 5-1 at Oldham back in the mid-80's having been a goal down in under a minute when Roger Palmer scored. By half time we were leading 4-1 with Peter Withe of all people spear-heading the attack and a certain Phil Thompson playing in defence. Being right in the middle of the Blades fans behind the goal was a great experience and when we celebrated each goal it seemed as if we had more fans in the ground than Oldham did. On leaving Boundary Park after the game I still remember the quagmire we found ourselves having to walk through to get anywhere.
At Home Park, Plymouth on a August bank holiday evening, I got talking to a Plymouth fan who seemed to be making his way around four sides of the ground unopposed and talking to whoever he bumped into. He even warned me not to leave the ground the same way that we had come in as this was where the Plymouth hooligans tended to gather. As it worked out we were actually led across the pitch to the main exit once the game was over.
In 1989, I was at the County Ground in Northampton. On the rare occasions that TV cameras had turned up there, the TV gantry was always set up looking towards the stand. What you would not see was the length of the pitch where the gantry was which only had one row of fans along it and a chain fence as behind it was the remainder of the cricket pitch. This was the era of inflatables which I believe was started by Manchester City fans and their bananas. Naturally our fans were carrying inflatable steel swords. That day the Blades won 1-0 but the memory that will never leave me of it was what happened at the full time whistle. The players were still just shaking hands when an announcement was made informing us all of the tragic events that had happened at Hillsborough that same afternoon in the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Being with fans actually from Sheffield, the news was still rather sketchy so there was a real sense of worry leaving the ground and all fans were allowed to leave at the same time for a change. It was very subdued in the streets outside as people just quickly made their way back to their cars or turned on their transistor radios.
At Carrow Road, Norwich I saw Vinnie Jones make his debut for the Blades and for some reason we wore an all white kit that day. Unable to get in with the Blades fans I stood quietly in the middle of home fans but at the same end as the segregated visitors. There was plenty of banter between the fans with Blades supporters getting the upper hand with many songs and jeers aimed at Norwich being a somewhat country bumpkin team and to join the fan club you must be able to drive a tractor. With the Blades two up, it was the Canaries that would have the last laugh though with two late cracking goals from Robert Fleck.
I have also seen John Burridge head-butt the post at Luton and jumped up and down in the rain behind the old open end for visiting fans at Selhurst Park. The £3 investment on an umbrella before that match was the best £3 I had ever spent back then as it just poured down (being polite) through the entire game. I was also at The Hawthorns on the day the hi-vis second choice shirt made its debut and stood with the team as they entered the ground which included goal scorers Tony Agana and Brian Deane on their way to finishing second that season and promotion to the top flight under Dave Bassett.
Since the early 90's I have sadly become more of an armchair fan as far as the Blades are concerned. A new job back then meant working just about every Saturday and that just killed any chance of being able to continue to go. Nowadays I just think it is way to expensive - especially taking into account fuel costs etc. Two really awful relegations from the Premier League have followed (but that is for another time) but since then for the best part we have been locked into the second tier of English football.
We always tended to be considered to be one of the front-runners and apart from 2006 when the Blades and Reading absolutely stormed the two promotion spots, at best we have hoped for is the play-offs. Back in 1988, the early days of the play-offs saw us relegated through them as back then the team finishing third from bottom were not automatically relegated. A 2-1 aggregate defeat to Bristol City in the semi-finals saw us go down and Walsall beat City in the final.
Since the play-offs changed to using the same rules as they are today, the Blades have reached the Championship final three times. The first one saw us lose to an injury time goal scored by David Hopkin for Crystal Palace in 1997. In 2003 at the Millenium Stadium we lost 3-0 to Wolves and were three down by half-time! In 2009 we were beaten 1-0 by Burnley.
All three of those play-off finals were for a place in the Premier League. We have not even scored a goal yet get a positive result in any of them. In fact our last goal at Wembley was against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup semi-final back in 1993 which we also still lost 1-2. This season the players are pictured celebrating that they are going to a Wembley final not for a Premier League place but a Championship place! Do me a favour! Our top striker is banged up in jail and our other forwards are either banned from the play-offs or suffering with eye infections. We blew the chance of automatic promotion in big style and of all teams our neighbours too the spot - and we have a manager that has repeatedly failed at even lower levels than this.
We are also up against a buoyant Huddersfield team with a natural goalscorer in Jordan Rhodes that are determined to right the awful play-off final they suffered last season when they lost to Peterborough. I am trying to find some hope through all of this but everything is pointing to a Terriers win. To think that the winners of this game will face the likes of Blackburn, Wolves, Bolton, Leeds, Middlesbrough etc next season whilst the losers will be facing Crawley Town, Stevenage and Yeovil (I mention these three because they were not that long ago all non-league sides).
When you look at it like that, maybe then you begin to realise that this play-off final in many ways is bigger than the one from the league above it. I am dreading this afternoon as at best all I can see from us is a workmanlike performance and really grinding out at best a 1-0 or winning on penalties. All the other options point to Huddersfield to wipe the floor with us. I am going to hate the red and white balloons that no doubt will be thrown on the pitch before kick-off with loads of fans going for the day out and that normally do not go to regular games throughout the season when the team needed them the most. I will also hate it when the cameras zoom in on some more poor sod after the game (probably some young child) crying their eyes out because their team did not win.
Perhaps a few hours from now I will think back to this article and find that much that I have written is baloney and we have gone up in style - but can I honestly see that? The clock is ticking ever closer - it is now nearly 1.30pm - only an hour and a half to go. Could we at least score today - that would be a start!
Lightning does not strike twice – or does it? After Chelsea's superb performance at Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final, surely they could not and would not be able to do it again in Bayern Munich's own back yard for the final? Could they?
Well, the answer to that is yes and no. You have to say that overall Chelsea did not play as well as they had done in the Nou Camp and the statistics will prove that with the amount of shots on goal Bayern had on goal. If it was not for poor finishing then Bayern should have easily wrapped up this final. On the other hand though this is football and we have seen this sort of thing happen time and time again so it is no fluke that Chelsea to a large extent rode their luck at times. The important point though was that hung in there and even when they went behind so late in the game there was still always a chance.
Didier's Drogba's goal – headed in from Chelsea's only corner in the entire evening has to be one of the best executed goals that I have ever seen headed in from a corner. The power that Drogba managed to get into the ball and the accuracy that sent it like a bullet into the top corner gave keeper Neuer little chance. I had a feeling at that stage that we might just see a repeat of the 1999 final in which Manchester United scored two very late goals to also beat Bayern in the final and at this stage of the game it was Chelsea that all the initiative.
But just moments after extra time started the game would turn on its head again when Drogba clipped Ribbery in the area and the referee pointed immediately to the spot. This was the weirdest moment in the match because watching on TV the reaction of the Bayern fans seemed almost muted. Could they not believe they had a penalty or had they not even realised! It was ironic that it would be ex-Chelsea player Arjen Robben that would step up to take the penalty and by his own admission after the game he had not struck the ball as he wanted to and Petr Cech was able to dive down and easily make the save.
This would be another massive let off the hook moment for Chelsea but perhaps it did them a favour. Perhaps it stopped them going a little bit too gung-ho in extra time and the extra thirty minutes did not provide us with many more clear cut chances. Robben – still a little shell-shocked from his miss elected not to be one of Bayern's penalty takers. I partly understand that but another part of me does not. Ever heard of a keeper fluffing a penalty save and because of a loss of confidence deciding that he does not want to be in goal for a shoot-out? These guys are on top money in one of the richest finals in the world – the least you should do is the job that you have been paid to do. There is something about Bayern Munich and European Cup Finals. Since beating Leeds United in 1975 under controversial circumstances to say the least, it has almost seemed at times that they have been cursed to never win this trophy again – especially against English teams. They did beat Saint Etienne in 1976 to retain the cup but since then have won the trophy just once and that was on penalties against Valencia in 2001. They have been beaten in five other finals of which three including this one have been against English teams. To make matters worse in four of the five finals, they have outplayed their opponents and if the game was being judged on a points verdict they would have won all four hands down. Against Manchester United in 1999, many of us will have forgotten by now how dominant Bayern were in that final. Against Porto in 1987 it was a similar story as they played the Portuguese side off the park and led 1-0 but somehow contrived to lose thanks to two late goals once again leaving the German team sprawled out across the park at the final whistle in dis-belief at the final score. Even worse – against Aston Villa in 1982, Villa keeper Jimmy Rimmer had gone off injured in the first ten minutes and Bayern completely and utterly battered the Villa team for just about the entire match. Once again though it would be Bayern's opponents who would win and even then Peter Withe, presented with an open goal in front of him, contrived to score with his shot going in off of a post! This years final though was all about Chelsea and the story that they have gone on this season. I need to talk about certain individuals here and their parts in this.
First of all – Andreas Villas-Boas. The Chelsea manager ditched by the club earlier this year. At that point the team seemed to be going nowhere, were playing without any real confidence and looked destined to achieve nothing including an exit in the Champions League to Napoli. Lets not forget that Villas-Boas was brought in with a specific task and that was to break up an ageing team and to being to build a new one. Anelka and Alex were both sold as part of this and more would have possibly followed them out of the door quite quickly as the team were just not functioning. I cannot blame Villas-Boas too much as the was just following the remit given to him. However, if the personality that he seemed to lack in front of TV cameras during interviews was the same in the changing rooms perhaps then I can see why he really had a struggle to even start to overthrow the rear guard of the Chelsea Old Boys who at the end of the day would win this particular war when he was fired. I wonder how Villas-Boas feels today having seen what has happened since his departure. I wonder if he feels what has happened is in some part down to him despite all the other negatives.
John Terry – I heard part of a phone-in show late last night a couple of hours after the game had finished and several fans were still not happy with Terry's involvement. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that Terry should not have lifted the trophy with captain on the night Frank Lampard. It was Terry's own foolishness in getting red carded in the semi-final that in the end proved it was even more fortunate that the team managed to get to the final in the first place. If Terry got to celebrate shouldn't Villas-Boas get to do so as well?
Roberto Di Matteo – We were talking recently about our choice for manager of the year. I suggested Di Matteo if Chelsea won the Champions League. This mans story is amazing when you think about it. Not that long ago he left his first managerial post at MK Dons for West Bromwich Albion, was successful in getting them promoted but then ditched by the club just a few months later. He failed to land the job as new Birmingham manager before returning to Chelsea to become Villas-Boas new assistant at the beginning of this season. Since taking over as manager at the beginning of March Chelsea's form just took off and they won the FA Cup. More importantly though, he turned around a 3-1 defeat at Napoli to win the second leg 4-1 at home before knocking out Benfica, Barcelona and beating Bayern in the final of the Champions League.
Roman Abramovich – Everybody has known since day one as owner of the club it has been the Champions League trophy that the wealthy Russian has always wanted. A whole host of ever-changing managers have failed to deliver the ultimate prize to him – the nearest being Avram Grant, in charge when they lost to Manchester United in the final on penalties in 2008. Therefore, it is quite ironic that he finally gets the golden egg under an interim manager in Di Matteo whom since his appointment, it has been quite apparent that he does not feature for where Abramovich wants to turn next. Di Matteo can do no more than he has achieved and yet because no announcement has been made you still feel that he is never going to be offered what he deserves. Even if Di Matteo is still at the club next season I get the feeling that one wrong move and he could be shown the door and that is his most optimistic chance. Three of four year contract? I just cannot see it, at best it is keeping the seat warm for somebody like Pep Guardiola. Some may argue that Di Matteo has had an easy ride because he stepped in with nothing really to lose and the hard decisions of getting rid of the Chelsea old guard not something he had to worry about for the remainder of the season. Should Di Matteo even now take the job for at least another season then these questions will once again come to the top of the agenda sooner rather than later.
Didier Drogba – There is no question that Drogba has a lot of people that despise what he stands for. They see him as a diver, a cheat, somebody that rolls around on the floor feigning injury for lengthy periods and within seconds is fully fit and agile once more. His red card in the final four years ago also meant that he did not get to take a penalty in that final and who knows – if he had have stayed on the pitch that day then maybe Chelsea would have beaten United. We have also seen Drogba receive lengthy European bans with the most memorable being his rant directly into the camera at the end of the Barcelona game when Chelsea had been denied what looked like at least three blatant penalty appeals. But the other side of Drogba is what we saw for the best part in this final and his goal scoring record in major finals is just extraordinary. As I mentioned earlier – you will not see a ball better headed than Drogba's equalizer with just three minutes to go. Whereas Robben was not selected in the penalty shoot out for Bayern, Drogba was there to take the all important cup winning last penalty and he slotted it into the corner perfectly. The emotion on his face as he ran away to celebrate is difficult to describe in words – you have to live those moments and only then will you know. It is ironic that it could be he the last time that he kicks a ball for Chelsea but whatever happens he will always be a Chelsea legend right up there at the top.
With Fernando Torres having a moan about his non-selection (does he seriously believe he has played that well to be in the starting eleven?) there are also question marks to be raised regarding his future. Whatever all of the outcomes that lay ahead, Chelsea fans will never forget what they have achieved this season from what seemed to be an impossibly bad situation.
Every year we hear the same thing – “we lost the title because of one game or that one.” “If we had only got away at...” If you try to over analyse it like that it will in the end send you around the bend! “If Player X had not been suspended”, “If Player Y had not been injured” or “If the manager had started with Player Z” it is never ending. If – If – IF! The whole world is based on ifs – if Hitler had never been born, if I had crossed the road a second earlier that car would have hit me – if, if, if!
There is also the “nearly” paradox too which I may as well mention while I am at it. “I nearly scored when I hit the post”. Here is a simple calculation – Ball in back of net = goal. Ball hits post and misses = no goal. Shot hits corner flag = no goal. The last two are the same! The same applies in all walks of life - “I nearly hit that car” - you didn't! (although it should be a wake up call to you because if you are talking about it suggests that it was mighty close to a prang).
But getting back onto the main subject here and that is this years Premier League title, in the end decided on goal difference – no ifs, or nearly's, they are the only facts that matter. But in this case, just for the sake of it I am going to have a look at where the two Manchester clubs did drop points this season and try to analyse where United lost the title and City won it.
Of the 38 league games this season City and United both lost five and drew five. Here are some of their worst results.
United 2 Blackburn 3. Swansea 1 City 0. So the United defeat is counter-acted here by City's failure in Wales.
Wigan 1 United 0. Sunderland 1 City 0. Same score for both so again both teams can argue.
Newcastle 3 United 0. Everton 1 City 0. Two more defeats but United taking a bit of a hit on the goal difference.
United 4 Everton 4, City 3 Sunderland 3. Both teams dropping points at home. City came back to get a draw from two down whilst United threw away a two goal lead late on – but the result is the same for both.
Stoke 1 United 1. Stoke 1 City 1. Identical results so neither can complain that this was the difference.
United 1 Newcastle 1. West Brom 0 City 0. The ten men of Newcastle get a draw through a controversial penalty so United fans will always argue this one. But lets not forget Ashley Young helping them pick-up dubious extra points elsewhere.
Chelsea 3 United 3. Fulham 2 City 2. A reverse of earlier with City blowing a two goal lead whilst United came back from three down also in West London. United and City both drew on their visits to Anfield but with City also losing at both Everton and Arsenal, United did not drop another point to any other opposition. So taking in this into consideration over ten games including their worst scores (without the head to head) it is United that have the advantage with 2 wins, 5 draws and 3 defeats which would give them 11 points. City's record would be 0 wins, 5 draws and 5 defeats giving them 5 points.
So where did City claw it back and gain those 6 points? The analysis at this point becomes obvious and United fans need to forget their defeats to the likes of Wigan and Blackburn because the conclusion is easy – they lost the title because of their two performances against City. I do not see how they can even give an excuse for either too. In the first game at Old Trafford City just took them apart and after United had been reduced to ten men the City victory went from being a win to being an absolute thrashing. In the game at the Etihad, again there is no real excuse for United as they failed to create one clear-cut chance during the entirety of the match. With just a few games to go United had an eight point advantage and if anybody it is usually the mind games of Fergie that go into overdrive in situations such as this especially when United are the chasing team – ask any Newcastle fan! The seven points they dropped in April with City gaining just one back from their game in hand was the way that the door was opened again. Remember – we are always told that the table never lies so the final icing on the cake is that if City had not won by such an impressive margin at Old Trafford and instead won by just the odd goal – the goal differences between the two clubs would have been level! I believe the rules would have meant a play-off for the title and if I am right that would have been something even more unique than the finish that we did get in reality.
A bit of dignity
Whether you win the title or lose one at least show some form of dignity when doing so. Fergie said all the right things whilst biting his tongue after the matches but at least he did not use too many excuses such as the ifs and nearly's I was talking about before. What Carlos Tevez did though on top of the bus was just plain inexcusable - celebrate your triumph and do not mock your rivals for their failure. We may be led to believe that Tevez is quite a nice guy away from all of the hype and it is just the way that he is portrayed in the media that has given him such a bad wrap recently. Nobody should ever forget what he did in Munich and how he handled himself between then and coming back to the club having failed to get a move. He celebrates a goal at Norwich by showing us his golf swing - something that he had been playing in Argentina during his time away from the game. And then to cap it off he parades this banner on the team victory bus. Nobody forced that banner into his hand - it was just plain Tevez being himself and proving once again that it is he alone that is making these dreadful decisions. In the direct comparison below see how Matt Busby congratulates Joe Mercer on City's last title 44 years ago.
Following on from the previous article, the following video shows the scenes of what happened next at the final whistle at the Etihad Stadium. There are a few interesting little things to note here and probably more may become apparent if spotted! First of all the one Manchester City player that does not seem as overjoyed as the rest is Kolo Toure. For one reason or another he only made 14 starts for City this season but to me he seems to be a little distant at the end when everybody else is going delirious. Secondly, note Samir Nasri getting mobbed by none other than QPR striker Djibril Cisee who has come back onto the pitch to celebrate along with the CIty fans! QPR have just stayed up so granted they want to celebrate too but Nasri and Cisse are close friends and also French team mates. I have also seen a video of QPR fans celebrating when City scored the winner. Even though it meant that they lost, they knew at this point that they were safe as Bolton's game was over. But does everybody really dislike Manchester United that much? The Sunderland fans did not hold back either as the news came through.
Yesterday, I added an article on the Memorable Moments blog
which showed Sergio Aguero's winning goal for Manchester City against QPR seven times with seven different commentaries from around the world. Each one showed a similar kind of passion regardless as to world location. In the video below we see how the drama was being handled in the Sky Sports studio with Paul Merson watching the game from the Etihad. In the final minutes Merson's head is beginning to turn a distinct shade of red. Kettle or volcano? Either one works as he looks like he is about to blow!
Its 2012 and therefore surely rule #1 in this day and age is if you are in any shape or form in the public eye NEVER EVER say or speak to somebody that you may well come to regret.
To be fair - you do not even have to be in the public eye. With mobile phone technology just about everywhere now you just do not know who is filming or recording who at any one time - even on an actual phone call. I will admit myself to sitting in a doctors office and taping the conversation not for anything bad or underhand but just so I could listen to it again to fully apprehend everything that had been said so it is was not misunderstood. If I can do that then anybody can record anything for absolutely any reason.
In the case of Blackburn manager Steve Kean, he has been caught out by a group of Blackburn fans he was talking to whilst in Hong Kong prior to the start of the past season. The motives of the fans to record the conversation could have been for a number of reasons - it could have been something just as simple as taking the opportunity to do it the same as many people like having their photograph taken with any celebrity or getting their autograph. On the other hand it could have been (and has become) something that they realised could become dynamite.
The video is available (at least for now) on you tube at this link
. The audio of this is to the right and does include some strong language.