Realistic expectations

Realistic expectations

From my Birmingham Mail column Wednesday Dec 5th 2018

 

As we head towards the halfway stage of the Championship season our teams face the second half of the season in good health but with very different expectation levels.

West Brom sit in 3rd place just 4 points off the second automatic promotion spot and are the league’s leading scorers with 42 goals from their 20 games. There are high expectation levels at the club and on the terraces. This, of course, is due to finance after being relegated from the Premier league last season so it’s understandable that they should be viewed as one of the favourites to win promotion. It’s understandable because they have the benefit of not only the PL parachute payments of 65 millions of pounds over three years but also because they have been able to retain a number of Premier league quality players. This finance and high expectation has allowed them to bring in loan and permanent deal players on big wages.

So it’s easy to see why the Baggies are many people’s favourites to bounce back to the top flight at the first attempt. They are always a threat in attack and create loads of chances. In my opinion if they were as tight in defence as they are prolific in front of goal then they would be clear at the top of the table and absolute certainties.

 

Villa are 8th 3 points away from the playoff places but as the new manager Dean Smith said recently the top two places are their aim. I am sure they would settle for a playoff place but right now their goal is the automatic places. They are currently 8 points adrift of second placed Leeds United but they score plenty of goals and are second leading scorers in the division with 39 goals in their 20 games so far. Second behind West Brom who they face on Friday in another Ding Dong Derby clash in the West Midlands a mouth-watering game to savour even if the rest of the country are more pre-occupied with London and Manchester derby games. Villa have been revitalised under new boss Dean Smith and are playing open football which at times may be a little to open for his liking. If they are to make a serious challenge for automatic promotion they have to be tighter in defence having conceded 30 goals so far. Maybe the clean sheet at Middlesbrough was the start of that defensive improvement?

Everyone involved with the club be in on the pitch or on the terraces believe the club should be pushing for one of the two automatic promotion places.

Across the city at St Andrews there is a very different level of expectation, Even though they sit just a point behind Villa in 9th place just 4 points away from the playoff places the manager Garry Monk has been careful to remind the supporters that the priority this season was to not be fighting until the last few games to avoid relegation. Something they have done for the past couple of seasons which have nervously gone down to the wire. With nowhere near the strength in depth that the Baggies or Villa have just one or two injuries or suspensions can cause a massive problem for Garry Monk. There is no doubt that they will have to cope with both suspensions and injuries as well as dealing with the EFL’s

“make it up as you go along” mind-boggling way of dealing with any given situation. There is rumour that the disciplinary hearing to decide Blues fate after they reported more than the allowed 39 million pounds aggregate worth of losses over 3 years. The club could face a points’ deduction and depending on the severity of the punishment it could see Blues in mid-table or possibly lower.

Blues don’t score as many as either Villa or West Brom but they are tighter and meaner in defence having let in just 24 goals in their 20 games.

Let’s be honest Garry Monk has done an amazing job under the most difficult of circumstances at St Andrews. He has not been able to strengthen the squad, even though the owners have money to spend, due to the profit and sustainability business plan imposed by the EFL that has restricted the club to bringing in loans and free transfers under an EFL wage cap.

It’s not rocket science if Blues want to be serious promotion contenders then they need to strengthen the squad with better quality players who can make a difference and who give the manager different options however the EFL have put paid to that until the disciplinary hearing has been held. Until that issue is resolved expectations at St Andrews must be kept realistic.

 

One of the biggest problems at any club is managing expectation levels?  Of course part of the football dream is believing your team can overturn the odds that are stacked against them on any given day or in any season.

However, in football supporters and realism are often not compatible bedfellows! Especially when emotion and unconditional love for your club flood your mind with positivity as I know only too well.

This can lead to irrational thoughts and very high and unrealistic expectation levels. Most of us have been guilty of it at times and without doubt it is part and parcel of being a supporter. We are all the same if our team was away at the current Manchester City there are some of us who would be betting on them to win because our over active positivity glands kick into gear. Of course there is nothing wrong with hoping your team wins in fact it’s obligatory as a fan but expecting then to win is when disappointment and anger become the post-match dessert.

Then when our expectations have not been realised some of us look for someone to blame and it’s usually the referee or player but more likely we vent our anger at the manager.

Most managers are reluctant to say anything to reduce expectation levels for fear of it being construed as negative or making excuses.

And of course they just might antagonise owners and directors who don’t want to give supporters any reason for not turning up at matches.

However should we as fans even try to temper our emotional loyalty to a club in the interests of realism when it comes to expectations or is it just a fundamental part of the makeup of being a supporter that everyone has to understand and accept?

I'm alright Jack-in this PL money bubble

I'm alright Jack-in this PL money bubble

From my Birmingham Mail column Nov 21st - Not a lot stirs my emotions about the great and beautiful game as I have become so used to all that goes on, outside of the 90 minutes, in the financial bubble that this money mad and money driven game lives. However I was angrier than I have been for a long time on hearing the news that the Premier Leagues Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore was being handed a five million pound golden handshake when he leaves his post at the end of the year.

To make matters worse the Premier League clubs were each asked to contribute £250,000 each towards this obscene payment with only five clubs including Wolves who rightly, in my opinion, said they would not pay.

To the delight of the Premier League and all Premier League owners Scudamore has negotiated a massive rise in TV revenues for the game during his tenure as Executive Chairman however isn’t that his job? The job he was paid handsomely to do. He was paid around 2.5 million pounds last year and that included bonuses, presumably, for the work he has done in increasing revenues. So why another bonus?

So many smaller clubs are struggling financially and the reason that can be traced partly back to the Premier League. At one time small clubs survived by developing players and selling them on. However with the top PL academies now able to walk in and take players from non-tier one academies for a pittance this source of revenue has all but dried up.

The 5 million pounds paid to Richard Scudamore would make a massive difference to all League two clubs and possibly League one clubs as well. For sure it isn’t going to happen. However you can see the point I am making about how out of balance the game is financially and why teams are fighting and over-stretching themselves to reach the Bank of Football that is the Premier League while most of those in it are overstretching themselves to stay in it. As for the rest well “tough” seems to be the attitude.

What would 5 million pounds do for ex-players who have fallen on hard times or need medical treatment? People like the family of Jeff Astle whose death was directly related to heading the ball while a professional player. There are many similar cases throughout the country where families of ex-players need help to care for their loved ones. That help could be either financial or practical.

That is why so many of us are angry at Richard Scudamore getting his five Million pounds golden handshake. So many men over decades served the game as players and became heroes and legends the supporters without the financial rewards that are available today. They played a massive part in the growth of the game, helping it to become a staple part of everyday life for millions of fans. In short they contributed to the success that makes it so attractive and why TV pay billions to show it.

They should not be ignored or forgotten and never will be by the supporters and ex-players associations but they are by the mainstream game today.

Would I turn down a Golden Handshake of Five Million pounds? Absolutely not and not would any of us. Richard Scudamore accepting the offer is not really the issue despite him earning over 20 million pounds from the Premier League while doing the job.

The problem is with those who decided it would be a good idea to pay him the extra five million pounds without any justifiable reason other than it would be a good idea? They are obviously very wealthy people who see it, in my opinion, just like they would if they tipping a waiter in a restaurant but with a lot more money.

 

I'm All Right Jack in this PL bubble

I'm All Right Jack in this PL bubble

From my Birmingham Mail column Nov 21st 2018 Not a lot stirs my emotions about the great and beautiful game as I have become so used to all that goes on, outside of the 90 minutes, in the financial bubble that this money mad and money driven game lives. However I was angrier than I have been for a long time on hearing the news that the Premier Leagues Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore was being handed a five million pound golden handshake when he leaves his post at the end of the year.

To make matters worse the Premier League clubs were each asked to contribute £250,000 each towards this obscene payment with only five clubs including Wolves who rightly, in my opinion, said they would not pay.

To the delight of the Premier League and all Premier League owners Scudamore has negotiated a massive rise in TV revenues for the game during his tenure as Executive Chairman however isn’t that his job? The job he was paid handsomely to do. He was paid around 2.5 million pounds last year and that included bonuses, presumably, for the work he has done in increasing revenues. So why another bonus?

So many smaller clubs are struggling financially and the reason that can be traced partly back to the Premier League. At one time small clubs survived by developing players and selling them on. However with the top PL academies now able to walk in and take players from non-tier one academies for a pittance this source of revenue has all but dried up.

The 5 million pounds paid to Richard Scudamore would make a massive difference to all League two clubs and possibly League one clubs as well. For sure it isn’t going to happen. However you can see the point I am making about how out of balance the game is financially and why teams are fighting and over-stretching themselves to reach the Bank of Football that is the Premier League while most of those in it are overstretching themselves to stay in it. As for the rest well “tough” seems to be the attitude.

What would 5 million pounds do for ex-players who have fallen on hard times or need medical treatment? People like the family of Jeff Astle whose death was directly related to heading the ball while a professional player. There are many similar cases throughout the country where families of ex-players need help to care for their loved ones. That help could be either financial or practical.

That is why so many of us are angry at Richard Scudamore getting his five Million pounds golden handshake. So many men over decades served the game as players and became heroes and legends the supporters without the financial rewards that are available today. They played a massive part in the growth of the game, helping it to become a staple part of everyday life for millions of fans. In short they contributed to the success that makes it so attractive and why TV pay billions to show it.

They should not be ignored or forgotten and never will be by the supporters and ex-players associations but they are by the mainstream game today.

Would I turn down a Golden Handshake of Five Million pounds? Absolutely not and not would any of us. Richard Scudamore accepting the offer is not really the issue despite him earning over 20 million pounds from the Premier League while doing the job.

The problem is with those who decided it would be a good idea to pay him the extra five million pounds without any justifiable reason other than it would be a good idea? They are obviously very wealthy people who see it, in my opinion, just like they would if they tipping a waiter in a restaurant but with a lot more money.

 

Tackling the dying art!

Tackling the dying art!

Final part of my Birmingham Mail column Weds Nov 14th 2018

Is tackling a dying art? That is a question I find myself asking after watching most games. I witness lots of perfectly timed tackles that win the ball but are being punished by referees for over aggressiveness?

One of the better things about the modern game is that defenders are not allowed to tackle from behind and that has been a massive plus point when it comes to entertaining attacking play. Also the “over the top” tackle has virtually disappeared from the game and when they do happen culprits are rightly banned either by red card or post-match by video evidence.

However it appears that almost ever strong challenge is deemed a foul. When a player is tackled at the pace the game is played at in all likelihood he will end up on the floor but that does not mean he has been fouled. And of course you can get hurt by a fair tackle and referees surely have to understand that and not be too quick to penalise and or get out a card. Accidents do happen in any contact sport especially those that are played at such great pace.

It is quite easy to spot a challenge that is a deliberate attempt to injure an opponent and they should be punished severely by the referees and subsequently by the FA. However let us not have a non-contact sport. Sure strikers would be delighted however a lot of defenders would be out of work and replaced by tippy tappy step over drag back footballers. Give defenders a break and stop going on about”his studs were showing” as that does not mean a foul has been committed unless it is well off the floor

In my opinion a game without tough but fair tackles is boring. We do see plenty of them as teams concern themselves with possession of the ball than anything else. Also defenders are scared to make a challenge these days for fear of conceding a penalty or a free kick in a dangerous position.

Most forwards are tricky and quick so a defender can try to make an honest fair tackle but ends up tripping the forward because he is quicker than the defender. So defenders end up being punished because the forward is a better player?

Lots of defenders try to stop a cross with their hands behind their backs for fear of conceding a penalty for hand ball. What’s that all about? Surely they cannot jump or react to anything standing like that?

Most managers/head coaches talk about needing a player that can “win the ball back” well how the hell he is going to do that without tackling.

Rant over! that’s what happens with no league football to look forward to. You turn into a football Victor Meldrew moaning about everything.

 

 

Yet another international Break

Yet another international Break

From my Birmingham Mail Column Weds Nov 14th 2018

Here we are in the middle of yet another international break and I make no bones about it I hate it. I miss the Saturday fix of club football including the build-up and post-match debate and discussions with my pals and on social media. And as worthy as England internationals are it’s just not the same for me and is best described as like kissing your sister.

Without doubt when it’s the Euro’s or the World Cup it’s different and they can often be very exciting games but these Nations Cup games otherwise better known as friendlies just don’t have the same impact for me. I would much rather be watching a championship game.

Clubs continually moan about the number of games they have to play especially in the Premier League where for years they have been talking about reducing it to 18 clubs.

Yet they buy into the international break when the reality is that it is not a break for most of the players who are involved in “international friendlies” which of course that can also mean travelling thousands of miles very often making you unavailable for the first game after the international break.

Cancel all midweek Premier League and Championship games and play the International friendlies then. Players fly out to join their international squad on Sunday   

This is the people’s game it’s not a business. Going to games on a Saturday is tradition and part of our upbringing and culture. I don’t care how much money you makes from International friendlies through the turnstile or via TV. Please don’t inflict international breaks on us for meaningless games when what we love to do and want to do is watch our team play.