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Do I want Pochettino sacked?

No. I do not.

My Twitter account has said “Pochettino Out” since the day he was appointed. It was a bit of a joke.

But that joke is not funny anymore. Some real accounts are popping up suggesting that the guy be sacked, and they are proving divisive.

True to say that I was underwhelmed by his appointment and not quite sure why he had been given the job.

But his reputation was glowing and growing (and he wasn’t Tim Sherwood). So I conceded to those far better positioned than I to judge, and set my own goals for what I expected to see from his first season.

While I don’t want the manager sacked,  I get irritated when I get sent stuff like this:

“We have a strong future” can be categorised with “we’re heading in the right direction” as a meaningless statement without convincing supporting evidence.

Is it because he’s blooding young players? His transfer record? His tactical acumen? His man management? His choice of captains?

What have we seen from Pochettino this season that suggests he will make Spurs a top four team (with the handicap of having only the sixth highest wage bill) in the next couple of seasons?

In my opinion, he’s done OK, but no more than that.

He has, however, done enough to earn a second season on the basis of a handful of quality performances and just on the basis of reasonableness – a young manager who has shown some promise, should get proper time to succeed.

More than anything, I’m interested in what he does with Paul Mitchell over the summer while, at the same time, Daniel Levy will have to work hard to move on the players Pochettino does not want anymore.

This could include players that Pochettino asked for/agreed to last summer but does not play – or plays with little success.

So, once again, a big summer for Spurs and Mitchell might be the wild card in it all.


No Point Lane for Jose and his Conspiracy Campaign

Conspiracy TheoryIf Jose Mourinho’s in-match performance was his usual artful theater, his post-match turn had the whiff of a whodunit mystery with some B-movie conspiracy theory waffle thrown in for good measure.

Despite his side conceding five goals at White Hart Lane (one win in nine league games for Chelsea now at so-called Three Point Lane), Mourinho chose to focus on the non-award of a penalty for a handball by Jan Vertonghen in the first half as the main reason for his team’s collapse.

In the interviews I watched, Jose said

We had the biggest opportunity to score the second goal which is a shot from the penalty spot.

I honestly had no idea which incident he was referring to until I dug further in to online commentary. This was the straw that Mourinho was clinging to – a clearly accidental handball by a falling defender -ball-to-hand, as Jose himself would no doubt be quick to highlight should, say, Gary Cahill been the victim of the same circumstance.

Jose Complaining

Jose also bemoaned the “honest” Eden Hazard who fell to ground after a tackle from Federico Fazio on the edge of the Tottenham box.

He’s a very honest guy in the way he plays but that’s another problem.

Based on his sideline histrionics, Jose clearly saw this incident as a foul. Hazard? Not so much. He immediately got to his feet after the tackle with no appeal to the referee. The Chelsea manager admitted that Hazard confirmed it was not a foul.

So that is good, in spite the fact Mr Dowd was too slow to follow that ball. He was 40 yards away but made the right decision. The decision in the first half, he was 10m away he couldn’t make.

When confronted with the evidence that Gary Cahill had, unprovoked, kicked the prone Harry Kane in the back while on the ground, Mourinho’s response was one of pure deflection.

I didn’t see that. But it was like the back – not like Sterling in the face?

It continues the “conspiracy” narrative that Mourinho started in the last week, his not-so-subtle attempt to pressure officials in to giving his players the benefit of the doubt in future games.

Even when he’s not accusing the officials of cheating him and his team, he’s extremely ungracious in defeat.

I hate to lose, of course, but I prefer to lose like I did against Newcastle with a clean performance by (referee Martin) Atkinson, an unlucky performance by us, a lucky performance by Newcastle. But a game you lose because of football.

And there’s not really anything wrong with that outside of it just making you an arsehole.

Mourinho is a great manager. He’s proven that time and again. But is he a great manager because he’s an arsehole or a great manager who happens to be an arsehole?

Is there some method, somewhere, to Levy’s madness?

Unless Daniel Levy is cackling away like a madman in his 100% leather-bound office, while putting the finishing touches to Frank de Boer’s managerial contract, it seems obvious that Southampton’s Mauricio Pochettino is about to leave the family-friendly south coast for a turbulent sixteen months in charge of Tottenham.

Pochettino v Owen, 2002

He’s the guy who brushed against Michael Owen in 2002.

I think it’s fair to say the news has been broadly received with a mixture of bewilderment and concern by Spurs fans.  At least the promotion of Tim Sherwood brought with it a sizable scoop of amusement to temper the negativity.

True, Levy never promised us a world-class manager like the Football Association of Ireland did shortly before Steve Staunton was appointed. But when names like Louis Van Gaal and Frank de Boer were said to be in contention, we at least expected to see someone you could label “a winner” take the hot seat.

Pochettino (who I guess should be added to my browser dictionary now) has done a decent job at Southampton albeit by inheriting and motivating someone else’s players.  He improved Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw so much that they are going to the World Cup and probably going to be playing for Champions League teams next season. He continued to get good service – and thirteen league goals – out of Rickie Lambert (another English World Cup squad member) and got a fifteen goal return from Jay Rodriguez.

If Levy is looking at this as evidence of that Pochettino is the man who can take a sixth place team and turn them in to a fourth place team, then maybe I can see that. Perhaps, for Levy, the key for 2014 is saving two high-profile transfer flops (and Spanish speakers) Soldado and Lamela, inspiring genuinely talented players like Paulinho, Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen that their future can be bright at White Hart Lane and getting the best out of wild cards like Sandro, Dembele and Andros Townsend.

Spurs squad is very strong and the failure of last season’s class should be shared among Director of Something, Franco Baldini, Levy and the two equally-guilty managers Sherwood and Andre Villas-Boas.

There must be something in the Levy strategy that has put Pochettino over the top and left four-time title-winning manager Frank de Boer scratching his head.

The Tim Sherwood Story

“Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” crowed Tim Sherwood – for Timdays on end – in to the ear of chairman Daniel Levy, swapping the phrase “are we there yet” for “can I have the job”. Like any overworked parent, Daniel finally acquiesced, giving Tim the keys to the kingdom, keys he previously entrusted to a well-dressed Portuguese man with fluffy hair.

Daniel Levy“Now, Timothy,” he said sternly, peering over his fashion-friendly
glasses, “don’t fuck it up.”

As an ambitious tyke with full confidence in his own abilities, the 44-year old Tim immediately began stamping his own mark on the team, abandoning tactics and finding as many players as possible who the previous manager did not like.

“Hello, Ade? I’m going to put you in the team on Sunday. I Adebayorexpect a performance.”
“No problem, boss. You’ll get 100% from me. But no more than that, it should be noted.”
“That’s fine. Now you’re not going to score a couple in your first game and then disappear for the next three games, are you?”
“Noooo. No. Probably not.”

Tim was nothing if not wily. You don’t get to the position he was in without having full confidence in your abilities as well as saying and doing the right things at the right time. So with that in mind he immediately set about trying to win the fans over by doing opposite things to the previous bloke that they did not like.

“Right, lads,” he said to some lads who were nearby. “We’re going to shake things up a bit.”
“Great! The club needs some innovative ideas to get us out of this slump. What have you got in mind?”
“We’re going 4-4-2 with the emphasis on attack.” Eriksen
“That could work, Tim. This is great. How will Eriksen play in this 4-4-2? Will you play him wide like how Man City play their creative players sometimes?”
“No, in the center.”
“Ok…he’s not really got defensive qualities so you’ll probably play him with a solid defensive midfielder, yeah?”
“Well I thought Dembele given how he’s quite athletic and can run a lot.”
“Hmmm, well we’ll give you a pass on that one, barely. So, say he’s not available. Would you then put Capoue in?”
“Not at all. He’s not great at attacking. I only know one way to play. Attack. That’s the way to play the game. So I’d put Holtby in alongside Eriksen.”

With the players on board and the lack of tactics decided, Tim knew he had one more area to focus on – public relations. Although he had full confidence in his abilities, he knew he needed advice from a very smart manager. He flipped through his rolodex/contacts app and called up a very popular manager, a(n FA Cup) winner, a former Spurs hero, a man who had recently suffered relegation and won four out of his last twelve games.

“‘Ello ‘Arry.”
“Alright, mate! How’s it going? Heard about the gig. First smart decision Daniel has made since that time he allowed me to sign Ryan Nelsen and Louis Saha. Better off with those terrific, honest, top, top lads than your fancy dan Powlinos and Ceaușescus.”
“As you know ‘Arry I’m new to this. Can you give me a few tips on how to cope with the media?”
“Sure, sure. First of all, after a negative result, talk about how the lads gave you 100% – even Ade – and you couldn’t ask for anything more.  Then talk about the injuries. Throw in a “bare bones” reference and always have a list of unavailable players that you can rattle off. You can throw in a few extra names at the end like youth players or ‘Robbie’. No one’s going to try and figure out who you’re talking about.”
“Anything else?”
Arry in Car
“Make sure the electrics on your car are working good. You need to be able to roll the window down on 31st of January and talk about how there’s nothing doing out there and that you worked ever so hard to bring in players but ultimately clubs don’t want to let ’em go.”
“What about communicating the improvement I bring to the club?”
“Absolutely. Take whatever statistics you can and manipulate them in a bid to show how important you are to the club. For example, if you’re 8 points clear of the bottom three now but 12 points clear in three months, talk about how you’ve lifted the club away from the relegation zone. If you’re in eighth position now and no lower than that in May, you can tell everyone how Spurs were mid-table when you come in and you brought them in to contention. I’m not as stupid as I looks, Tim. Even though I can’t read very well and I writes like a child.”

Tim’s final stop was to see Franco Baldini, the man who became the new Damien Comolli, who was the new Frank Arnesen, who was the new David Pleat.

“Hello, Tim,” Baldini said, probably in an Italian accent.Baldini
“Don’t ‘hello, Tim’ me,” responded the indignant manager. “What we gonna do about all that tripe you bought in the summer?”
“Like who?”
“He’s good.”
“No he’s not. He’s good in Holland. And what about this Soldado chap? Bloody hell. He couldn’t hit a barndoor with a…ball”
“He’ll come good. He scored many times in the Spanish league,” insisted Franco.
“And Chiriches. It’s like a Ramon Vega tribute act,” Sherwood complained
“Anything else?”
“Lamela? He’s worth about a third of what Bale was.”
“Which is actually factually correct, Tim.”
“Look, all I’m saying is that these lads are no better than what we had.”
“And what do you propose?”
“We bring in Jamie Redknapp. As a coach.”


And with that, Tim sauntered down to the training pitch to work on no tactics.

Fantastic players versus the idiocy of the internet

Gareth Bale.  He’s very good you know.  He’s so good that one of the richest clubs in the world want to buy him for a world record fee.  Gareth Bale

It’s funny that for the longest time, football fans across England scoffed at the illustration of Bale as a superstar with charges of him being overrated and not all that.  As last season unfolded and he continued his fine form – even improving under AVB – they reached for another weapon: his penchant for diving.  They did the same thing to Cristiano Ronaldo: a one-trick pony, show-boater, diver, whiner, fancy-dan, nancy-boy, only scores so many goals because he takes all the free-kicks (yes, really).  I had the same reaction to Ronaldo myself when, truth be told, I would have loved to have him at my club.

It seems that to be a player held in esteem by fans of other clubs, you must perform very well all the time.  I’ve heard Man United and Liverpool fans and  fans talk about the time they played Spurs and Gareth Bale was in the pocket of Rafael or Glen Johnson, which completely shot down this theory that Bale was any good.  And did you know that Bale’s great performance in Milan in 2010 was only because he was up against the over-the-hill Maicon?  I’m guilty too – I talk about the time Cristiano got played off the park by Benoit Assou-Ekotto.  Yeah, that really damaged his market value and ability to score more than a goal per game at Madrid, didn’t it?

Yes, there is much idiocy out there.  We call it “trolling” but it’s really bullshit.  If you can’t see the absolute class from players like Ronaldo or Bale or Suarez then you’re not really worth debating.  I can question the value of Christian Benteke because he’s really only had a season to show it at the top level. Perhaps he’s brilliant.  But perhaps he’s another Benjani or Andy Carroll.

But when the likes of Bale perform extremely well for three seasons and show a considerable array of talents (skill, pace, goal-scoring, intelligent runs, heading, crossing) you cannot question his ability with a straight face.

Bale isn’t as good as Messi or Ronaldo. I’m not sure anyone is suggesting he is. But he’s one of the top ten to fifteen players in the world and I don’t think there would be too many credible people arguing with that assertion.

On that basis, he’s worth £80m.  In fact, he’s pretty much invaluable to Spurs because, even with all that money in the bank, they are not going to replace him.  There’s no one as good as Bale who will score over 20 goals from midfield next season, that is going to join a team in the Europa League.

Bale will be a big loss to Spurs if that’s how this media-driven saga plays out.  And one way or the other, as soon as he has a few poor games we’ll no doubt hear about how rubbish he is.

An insidious package

Defenders of Luis Suarez blame everybody but him for the challenges he faces: it’s the Imagemedia’s fault, it’s Evra’s fault.

It’s not – it’s Suarez’s fault.

He talks about his treatment at the hands of the press, how he can’t even walk his baby. But Suarez has brought all of this on himself. Does Sergio Aguero, Fabricio Coloccini or Pablo Zabaleta get pursued? Have the media been camping on their lawn? No.

What’s the difference? Well as Carlos Tevez and John Terry would tell you, if you do stupid things then you will be pursued, they will write stories about you and people who don’t know you will write pieces about you that may not be entirely sympathetic.

It’s not a case that Suarez bites like Jermain Defoe did once, or dives like Gareth Bale does, or shows a lack of sportsmanship like Martin Keown did when roaring in Ruud van Nistelrooy’s face, or sneers and lacks humility like Craig Bellamy.

It’s that he is all of these things in one insidious package.

As a private human being Suarez might be personable, an upstanding individual with solid family values who donates regularly to charity. But none of these matter to the millions who see his very public petulance and occasionally outrageous behaviour on the football pitch.

He says he has not been judged as a footballer? He was shortlisted for player of the year while playing in a team that stumbled inconsistently a long way from the top of the league. His goals and his skills are regularly cited and admired, even by his most fervent opponents.

Suarez says he does not want to move for money or for Champions League? Well then Liverpool should only agree to sell him to a similarly-ranked club in a foreign country who will pay him the same money as he earns now: Sevilla, FC Twente, Parma, Dundalk. That will test the motivations of the player.

I respect Liverpool and I respect Suarez as a player and would love to watch him week-in, week-out in the Premier League – but without the brazen and insolent swagger of the self-absorbed man-child that he is.

The Premier League Season Prediction Extravaganza – Part 5: Champions and the Chasing Pack

Continuation from Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4.

4 Liverpool
I know the joke about Liverpool fans spending 20 years saying “this could be our year” has run its course now, but there is a definite optimism surrounding Anfield this season after the appointment of budget tiki-taka master, Brendan Rodgers. There has been a decent outlay on former Swansea players Fabio Borini and Joe Allen and the wage bill has been trimmed with Fabio Aurelio, Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez, Alberto Aquilani and Craig Bellamy finding employment elsewhere. Much is made of how many times Liverpool hit the bar last season and, if a percentage of those had gone in, then we’d have had a very different final league position and King Kenny would still be in a job. But the club needed to reinvent itself after the debacle around Luis Suarez and the self-aggrandizing t-shirts worn in support of him – singularly the most misguided and embarrassing thing since Bryan Robson’s appearance in Jossy’s Giants. A fully fit squad is going to be a challenge to anyone this season, especially if they embrace Rodgers’ way. Liverpool fans seem to be confident so I’m going to follow their lead and predict a Champions League place for the Reds (unless Di Matteo wins his second Big Cup in succession).

3 Manchester United
Maybe Alex should have gotten out while he can. The perception is that Alex Ferguson is not being given all that much money to spend, considering that he manages the wealthiest club in the world. Just Twelve million pounds was dropped on Shinji Kagawa this summer but 90 million-plus on David De Gea, Bebe, Anders Lindegaard, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Gabriel Obertan (yeah, that worked) and Antonio Valencia in the three seasons prior. It’s not like there has been no money – but maybe just not money spent in the right places. United were so short last season that Paul Scholes came out of retirement and 38 year old Ryan Giggs still plays regularly. Darren Fletcher is facing an uncertain future with illness and played just 8 times last season. But United look short of quality in midfield this season. This might be the season where the old guard hand over to Tom Cleverley and perhaps even Shinji Kagawa. Regardless, even Ferguson’s ability to get the best out of his players may not be enough to overturn their city rivals once again.

2 Manchester City
It’ll be all Brian Marwood’s fault when City fall short this season. There’s no doubt that the billion dollar team need to offload players, something they are finding difficult due to absurd wages that Sheikh Mansour sanctioned when told that Roque Santa Cruz and Emmanuel Adebayor were good players. Santa Cruz, Adebayor, Nigel de Jong, Adam Johnson, Kolo Toure and maybe even the likes of Edin Dzeko may have little role to play this season. Until then, the purse strings have been supposedly kept awkwardly knotted by sports director executive person Brian Marwood. City have reportedly tried to sign Daniele de Rossi, Scott Sinclair, Robin van Persie and Daniel Agger but so far the only newcomers are Jack Rodwell and, arguably, slimmed-down outcast Carlos Tevez. I’m sure there will be additions before the transfer window “slams shut” but City saw largely the same squad – put together for an insane amount of money – stumble over the line in the 93rd minute of the final game of the season. It may be even harder this season.

1 Arsenal
If the Arsenal fans are anything to go by – and they would be the ones who know – this is the season when it all comes to fruition. Arsene Wenger has finally abandoned his policy of signing unproven players, bigging them up, giving them League Cup games and then realising a few years later that they are not actually good enough. Perversely, the very fact that he has managed to compete for Champions League qualification in spite of all this is a reason why Wenger should be recognised as the second best manager of the Premier League era. Last season a flurry of transfer activity including the signing of finished articles like Andre Santos, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertersacker helped Arsenal eventually nick third place off Spurs on the final day of the season. And Wenger has continued that policy with the capture of Olivier Giroud (25), Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla (both 27). Even if Robin van Persie goes it should not really matter all that much as he has recruited two top class strikers in his place and a brilliant winger in Cazorla. With Jack Wilshere – set to become the best midfielder of his generation – and the burgeoning class of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and occasional genius of Theo Walcott it’s hard to see Arsenal not being in the mix at the business end of the season. Hopefully the days of giving games to mediocre talent like Abou Diaby, Nicklas Bendtner, Denilson, Carlos Vela and Emmanuel Eboue are a thing of the past and Wenger has finally copped on to himself. Thomas Vermaelen has captured the feeling of a lot of fans when he said: “I feel really positive for the new season. If we all stay fit, the squad is strong enough to compete for the title”.