Josh Wright

Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

Separation of Two Greats

In Football on September 20, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Wenger endures his sides worst start to a season since 1953

As followers of the Premier League this weekend with have been privileged to view an undeniably entertaining, high-quality and fascinating weekend of football. We had numerous fantastic goals, sweeping attacks and astonishing plays, and that is before we even begin to mention the misses of Torres and Ramires to name but a few. So what have we learned from this weekend? What is indisputable is the gap that has been produced between Manchester United and Arsenal.

Manchester United:

The early pace setters have maintained their 100% record in the Premier League, leading the chasing pack with 15 points from 15. Sir Alex has assembled a team that while containing players of youth still have the class to put away teams. To have beaten teams such as Chelsea and Arsenal comfortably in the first few games, scoring freely and looking secure despite a new and relatively inexperienced defence, portrays the quality that has been assembled at Old Trafford. An attacking quartet of Rooney, Hernandez, Nani and Young with pace, skill and technique aplenty have torn Premier League defences apart. Both Nani and Anderson, despite previous criticism with regards to their Premier League pedigree, have developed into crucial members of this United side. Anderson looks secured and solid, while also providing a creative flair. Nani was unplayable, attacking with pace and fluidity as well as scoring a contender for goal of the season. However it is not just United’s attacking prowess that is terrifying for their title rivals, but their immense defence. Evans seems to have become a player re-born and Evra is his usual self. But the major development is the acquisition and growth of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. If we examine the two individuals start to the season it would be hard to belief that one is just 19 and the other playing non-league football just 2 seasons ago.  They play we a security that far surpasses their years and experience, as well as both providing an attacking threat; Smalling scoring against Chelsea and Jones scything run and commitment leading to Rooney’s 9th of the season. On this form it seems difficult to look further than United.


Another trip to the North-West, another defensive horror story. Throughout the history of the Premier League only 2 teams have conceded more goals after 5 games than Arsenal this season and they are now sitting perilously close to the relegation zone following their worst start since 1953. Mertesacker and Santos, judging by their first appearances, do not look to have filled the gapping void that is Arsenal’s defence. Koscielny and Djourou do not possess the quality that must be demanded of an Arsenal player and are Arteta and Benayoun able replacements for Fabregas and Nasri? Wenger must now look long and hard at both his much criticised transfer policy and, crucially in the short term, the measures that must be taken to secure a defence that conceded 4 against a pressurised Blackburn side.  While the Gunners chief executive Ivan Gazidis has ruled out sacking Wenger, stating;

“”Arsene Wenger is not broken. To see him portrayed as an idiot is damaging – not to him or the club but to the game.”

“[Sacking him] is a route we are not going to go down.”

He continued saying, “He didn’t suddenly become a bad manager or out of touch. That’s nonsense,” and while this is undeniably true, it is possible to claim that this has happened gradually over the past 5 years. Arsenal still have not one a trophy since their FA Cup success of 2005, and look further from correcting this failing now than ever. Not only does Wenger’s team portray intrinsic failings, but the development of Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham has made competition much tougher. What Wenger and perhaps crucially the Arsenal board do over the next days and weeks are vital to saving the Gunners season, a season in which any aims of title contention have collapsed.


The Not So Beautiful Game

In Football on May 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Neil Lennon is attacked at Tynecastle in possibly the next wave of Sectarian violence

Football in this country has escaped the dark days of racism and repeated crowd trouble? On a global scale is it not the most popular sport in the world?  A sport that permeates race, class and politics? The recent events regarding sectarianism and corruption allegations clearly beg to differ, and for the impartial observer threaten to destroy all that is beautiful about the beautiful game.

The evening of the 11th May 2011 will go down as a dark day for football due to the events of an individual who maliciously attacked the Celtic manager Neil Lennon during the crucial SPL clash between his team and Hearts at Tynecastle. The individual climbed down from the seating, ran onto the pitch and assaulted Lennon before being restrained and later arrested. This comes within the recent events of death threats and even parcel bombs being sent to Lennon and a number of other prominent fans of Celtic. It then transpires that the next day a package addressed to Lennon arrived at Celtic Park containing a bullet. These events cannot and should not be taken lightly by all authorities involved, they represent a despicable and cowardly attempt to threaten and endanger a number of individuals.

The Old Firm is more than a rivalry, this is clear; but this connection to and recent revival of sectarian conflict needs to be stopped. We can proudly say that on the whole the issue of racism in football on these shores is no more. The game is now a family game, one in which we can take pride in our teams and enjoy the sport at its very best. It should not be a way to express your damaging political views and in this case an excuse to perform acts of terror.

In a less serious, but undeniably damaging affair, issues regarding Fifa and corruption have once again resurfaced following Lord Triesman’s comments. Triesman, the former FA Chairman, stated that with regards to Jack Warner, Nicolas Leoz, Ricardo Teixeira and Worawi Makudi that their behaviour was “below what would be ethically acceptable.” This is with regards to corruption in the process of bidding to host respective world cups. Triesman’s exact allegations vary from Paraguay’s Fifa member Leoz asking for a knighthood, Thailand’s member Makudi wanting the TV rights between England and Thailand in a national friendly and Brazil’s Fifa member Teixeira asking Triesman to “come and tell me what you have got for me.”

Fifa presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam responded to these claims stating “I will happily and unreservedly restate that I firmly believe Fifa, as a decision-making body and as an organisation, isn’t corrupt,” however it is clear that the appropriate course of action is an independent investigation. With the scandal encompassing the whole organisation, including Bin Hammam and Qatar’s successful 2022 bid, it would be ludicrous to accept a Fifa led investigation.

Both of these events vary significantly from sectarianism to corruption however both threaten the sport that we all love. In many ways people feel disillusioned with the wealth and business culture associated with the modern game however we are now free of the troubles of the past. These recent scandal’s cannot be allowed to progress into anything worse. It is a game first and foremost, and I for one hope it stays that way.

Wimbledon – From Non-League to Premier League, Buckinghamshire to AFC

In Football on April 12, 2011 at 6:59 pm

The 'Crazy Gang' Celebrate Cup Victory in 1988 - Success that is now resigned to the History Books

“The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club.” John Motson, FA Cup final 1988

BBC commentator John Motson thus acclaimed the greatest point in the history of Wimbledon F.C, the moment that they clinched victory in the 1988 FA Cup final,  defeating arguably one of the most successful and glamorous teams in the history of English Football, Liverpool. Wimbledon’s rise from non-league and amateur football following their election to the Football league in 1977 is still one of the most amazing examples of what is magical about the game, however also represents a tragedy for thousands of fans.

Formed in 1889 as Wimbledon Old Central Football Club the club’s history pre-1977 despite a number of notable achievements, particularly becoming the first non-league side in the 20th century to beat a first division team away from home when they defeated Burnley at Turf Moor in the third round of the 1974-75 cup, was largely uninspiring. The club had periods in which they were a highly successful non-league side, however until their election to the Football League they had seemingly slipped under the radar of first class football in England. That was until the 1985-86 season, the season in which Wimbledon were promoted to the First Division, just 9 years after joining the Football League. What followed was a period of great success for the South-West London club, one that contained successful seasons in both the old First Division and later the Premier League and was epitomised by the Cup win of 1988 with Sanchez and Beasant becoming both club and cup heroes. However these success and achievements are truly resigned to sporting history, Wimbledon F.C. is no more and where Plough Lane, the stadium of the ‘Crazy Gang’, once stood, now 570 flats reside; a sad end to undeniably a fantastic club.

The demise of Wimbledon F.C. occurred to allow the ‘overspill’ city of Milton Keynes to possess a professional club.  The opportunity was offered to Luton, Barnet and Crystal Palace amongst others by Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium, who were unable to justify the creation of a large stadium for a club not playing a noteworthy level of football, however following the appointment of Charles Koppel as Chairman of Wimbledon, a man who stated that the club would ‘die’ without the proposed move, Wimbledon as it had been for over 100 years would soon be no more. The club announced its intent to move in August 2001 and after receiving permission from what AFC Wimbledon describe as the ‘supine’ FA, moved to Milton Keynes in September 2003. Wimbledon F.C, the ‘Crazy Gang’, was in reality no more; the club’s name, its location, its fan base, even down to its emblem and colours had all changed and the club was one that had once graced grounds from Twerton Park through to Wembley for over 100 years was now the concoction of a number of businessmen and corporations in a purpose built, Buckinghamshire town.

MK Dons have had a relatively subdued history since 2003, a couple of relegations and a promotion, as well as spring boarding a number of individuals to pastures new. However as this season draws to a close it is worth a glance at the Blue Square Premier and most notably AFC Wimbledon. The club was created by the fans of the old Wimbledon and is maintained by the fans, a fan base that achieved an average attendance of over 3500 in its first season of Blue Square Premier football.  Following Crawley Town’s promotion, Wimbledon sit 2nd, and unless a disastrous run ensues, look forward to an exciting play off campaign. If the club can win promotion it will emulate the original club’s greatest successes, and represent a victory for fans, fans who despite the catastrophic loss of their club, have united and created what can only be described with regards to football as magical, a club for the fans created by the fans. As usual it is going to be an engaging climax to the season, and if things go their way, AFC Wimbledon will go down in the history books. The ‘Crazy Gang’ may be back with a bang, albeit in a reformed manner, and let’s hope they can follow in footsteps of their predecessors.

Strength of the Football League: Adel Taarabt

In Football on March 22, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Adel Taarabt - Championship Player of the Year 2010-2011

Following this week’s Football League awards it seems fitting that this feature is on the player who won the award for this season, Queens Park Rangers’ Adel Taarabt, a player that so far this season has scored 15 goals and captained his team within a short grasp of the Premier League.

At 21 Taarabt is one of the youngest to players to win such a prestigious award, an award that recognises him alongside previous winners such as Kevin Nolan, Kevin Phillips and Phil Jagielka. His manager Neil Warnock describes him as, “the most talented player that I have had under my wing in my entire 30-year management career,” not a bad reference coming from one of the most experienced managers in the country. The host of praises continue from his team mates, Shaun Derry, when questioned on Taarabt stated, “In this division you look for individual talent that can singlehandedly change games and you cannot look further than Taarabt. When we have needed a bit of magic to get back into a game, he has given us a bright spark by either scoring or creating a goal.”

Praise and awards such as these have not been ever-present in Taarabt’s early career, and the player has had to work hard to achieve what he has to date. The Moroccan-born midfielder grew up in France, after moving from his native Morocco aged 9 months. He signed for Lens however made just a handful of appearance before being signed by Tottenham Hotspur aged 17, with comparisons to greats such as Zidane. The period at Tottenham was, however, an unhappy one for Taarabt and after suffering setbacks such as not being given a squad number by the then Spurs manager Juande Ramos and after only making a minimal number of appearances, Taarabt made the loan move to QPR.  After a string of appearances Taarabt clearly impressed and was signed on a season-long loan the following year, a season that would include 7 goals in 41 appearances. In the summer of 2010 Taarabt signed permanently for QPR, for a fee believed to be in the region of £1 million. It is this step down to the Championship that has seemingly rejuvenated the individual’s career, and spring boarded him onto the football world radar.

It is not just the return goal wise that has set Taarabt apart from his contemporaries this season, although 15 goals from an attacking midfielder with 8 games to go is a fantastic return, but the way he plays and the skill he possesses. Taarabt is one of the most technically gifted players to grace the Championship and his range of tricks and turns dazzle and amaze not only supporters but his team mates and opposition alike. The player does possess an attitude that Warnock’s predecessors struggled to deal with. However despite a few incidents in which his previous attitude issue has arisen, on the whole Taarabt and QPR have managed to control this and as such have reaped the rewards. Whilst Warnock has been integral in this, Taarabt has likened him to a father, credit must go to the player for constraining a weakness that has ruined many and threatened to ruin his career. Taarabt is not a defensive player, his positional statistics show this, on some occasions he sulks and can be selfish, but any manager would be delighted to have this individual in their squad, a point emphasised by Warnock appointing the Moroccan as his captain, and their teams would be far better for it.

Exodus to the North: Football League Talent North of the Border

In Football on March 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes, both former Football League players, are currently enjoying a rich vain of form in the SPL

At the current moment in time the highest level of Scottish Football is awash with Football League talent, with many of the most promising individuals in the English second tier choosing SPL football over the Football League. Whilst the facts speak for themselves, Celtic and Rangers are regularly involved in European football, albeit (apart from the occasional season) unsuccessfully, and are normally guaranteed a form of silverware in one form of the other most seasons, the attraction of this is one that seemingly passes me by, and that in fact for the players involved, England’s second tier should be a greater lure.

Members of Celtic’s current squad include Gary Hooper, Kris Commons, Joe Ledley and Fraser Forster as well as the likes of Daryl Murphy and Anthony Stokes, and in Rangers squad we see Kyle Lafferty. Many of these players have been viewed as potential talents, who have proved their worth in the Championship. If we take Hooper for example, the former Scunthorpe United marksman scored 43 goals in 80 appearances for the Lincolnshire club, and despite interest from the top clubs in the Championship chose a move to Celtic in the summer. Since this move his goal scoring has continued, this season’s statistics read 15 goals in 24 matches, in any league those are fantastic figures. Anthony Stokes’s performances this season have been similarly successful, scoring 17 in 27. However unlike Hooper, Stokes’s career in England had seemingly stalled, with an unsuccessful period at Sunderland which included two unexceptional loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Crystal Palace. Stokes has seemingly rejuvenated his career in the SPL, and whilst this has been successful for him, is this league really the best opportunity for some of the best young talent in the Football League?

The average Championship attendance for last season was 18,106, making it around the fifth largest league in the world. These attendances are matched by viewing figures, with media companies spending large quantities on the rights for the Football League, the BBC’s recent contract for the Football League Show being the epitome of this. On the other hand SPL football averages around 13,915, however without the likes of Celtic and Rangers this figure would plummet. Whilst playing in front of 45,000 at Parkhead and Ibrox has its benefits, away fixtures at Hamilton and St Mirren in front of around 4000 limit this. Although comparing the playing standards of the leagues is difficult, if we examine some of the players to have moved between the two and the success they have had relatively it is possible to deduce a distinction between the quality. Kris Boyd, the all time SPL leading goal scorer has struggled at Middleborough, as has Scott MacDonald and Kenny Miller during his period at Derby County in the Premier League. Stokes, a player who seemingly struggled in the English game has flourished at the highest level of the Scottish game.

The standard of Championship football is ever-increasing, with more money being invested and more supporters flocking to games. The Scottish game, on the other hand is in somewhat of a lull, with a lack of a major TV backer following the collapse of Setanta and the upcoming review of the league structure.  This is not a rant in regards to Scottish football which as a league contains one of the most compelling, competitive and highly charged derby matches, as well a multitude of enthusiastic fans and clubs. However is this really the best environment for the development of the some of the talent that has fled from the Football League to north of the border? The growing strength of the Football League should convince players that their futures lie here, and this will provide them with the experience they need to fulfil their potential.

Strength of the Football League: Nicky Maynard

In Football on March 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Nicky Maynard's 09-10 Goal of the Season against QPR

The Football League is more than often ignored as a source of talent for the English game however in reality the case in completely the opposite. The second, third and fourth tiers of the game in England have provided large numbers of top class players involved in the Premier League and judging by the talent available this is likely to continue into the next few years.  This is the first in a series of articles with regards to the depth of talent in the Football League, and in this instance the player in question is Bristol City’s young striker Nicky Maynard.

At 24 Maynard is approaching the prime of his career; however his achievements seemingly suggest that he is already in the most successful period of his career. In the 2009-10 season Maynard scored 20 Championship goals, more than the likes of Andy Carroll, Michael Chopra and Charlie Adam. Maynard’s strike against QPR, a goal of the highest calibre that involved a flicked turn under pressure on the edge of the box and volley into the top corner of the net, was later won the Mitre Goal of the Year award at the Football League Awards. This season Maynard has suffered serious a serious knee injury which prevented his season from starting until February, however at the time of writing Maynard has scored 3 goals from 5 starts, rejuvenating an under-performing Bristol City and leading them away from the relegation zone. Rumours have also been circulated linking Maynard with a host of Premier League clubs, including the likes of Liverpool and Everton, however some question whether the player could deal with the step up in talent.

Maynard’s career began at Crew Alexandra, under the stewardship of the one of the Football’s League’s most respected managers in Dario Gradi. It is undeniable that the talents of one of the best managers at this level of football greatly aided Maynard in the early years of his career, and a goal return of 32 goals in 59 appearances, followed by becoming Bristol City’s record signing at £2.25 million in the summer of 2008, showed how highly the player was rated. The step up to the Championship, as has been said, has been successful, with a host of goals and awards. Statistically Maynard looks as if he could make the step up to the highest level however what differentiates him from multitudes of other goal scorers is the nature of his goals. Maynard very rarely scores simple or lucky goals; the majority of his goals are spectacular to say the least. If Maynard is not scoring high quality long range efforts such as those against QPR and Newcastle United last year, the player gets into intelligent positions, scoring intelligent goals such as the ones he has scored following his return from injury.  The striker is also blessed with that asset that all defenders fear, pace, and this pace combined with the skill and intelligence he possesses currently makes him the complete center forward at his current level of the game. Can Maynard successfully make the step up when successful individuals such as Michael Chopra have failed? The answer to this question can only be answered if the rumoured moves take place, however as a Football League fan I will be hoping for a few more years of Maynard, as the talent his possesses is a pleasure to watch.

Rooney sees Red! Surely?

In Football on March 3, 2011 at 1:55 pm

James McCarthy clutches area of his head that collided with Rooney

Manchester United’s 4-0 defeat of Wigan Athletic on typical Premier League Saturday on the whole may have seemed to be an example of a number of regular occurrences, Manchester United’s usual dominance, Wigan’ Athletics inconsistency of performance that has left them in the predicament they are in, the fantastic display of one of the bright sparks of the Premier League this season in Hernandez and Wayne Rooney and the referee losing it.

It had been two weeks since Rooney’s wonder goal which many claim to be the goal of the season, a fantastic over-head, scissor kick, in all honesty it had it all, drilled into the top corner to clinch a decisive derby victory. Rooney received praise from all quarters of the footballing world however within the fortnight this praise turned to damnation, and rightly so. The event itself was unwarranted, unjustified and unnecessary for a United team approaching the ‘business end of the season’ who would surely need their best players. However in the strange circumstances that occurred, Rooney escaped the incident without any punishment both during and after the game.

The incident itself leads to two major issues, both of which are, as in keeping with the match, regular issues; the hypocritical nature of the United staff and innate flaws with the referring system within our game. After the game United Assistant Mike Phelan said in regards to the incident, “”we can’t dispute referee’s decisions” however during this weeks fixture between Chelsea and United, Ferguson stated in regards to the missed foul on Rooney by Luiz,”He does Rooney clear as day, [the referee is] six yards from it, he doesn’t do anything. That changed the game.” It is events such as this by Ferguson that seem to happen on far to regular occurrences, as well as mistakes being made by referees which could easily be accounted for if they receive the support that is both available and clearly necessary. We now look forward to this weeks fixtures, and of course the numerous regular events that cause such debate.