Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mourinho/AVB just the undercard

Originally published on the Montreal Gazette's Goal Posts blog on Saturday morning, 28th September.

Much of the press surrounding this weekend's matchup between Tottenham and Chelsea has been about the fractured friendship of the managers, Andre Villas-Boas and Jose Mourinho.

While it is true that Villas-Boas followed Mourinho around like a puppy heeling to his master, the comparisons are - as usual - overstated.  Mourinho's teams are usually best on the counter-attack, while Villas-Boas tends to favour a little more ball control. The Elder's squads are made up of uncompromising types who start out wanting to kill for their boss, and end up wanting just to kill him; his padawan is far milder and prefers fewer histrionics.

But the clubs' rivalry, based as much around Villas-Boas' ill-fated stint at Chelsea as their personal relationship, isn't the most important battle of wills on display at White Hart Lane today.

Far more integral to the Blues' season is the effect of Jose Mourinho's display of primal chest-puffing affects fallen superstar Juan Mata.  More precisely, Chelsea's season doesn't rest on one clash with Villas-Boas and his new men, but with how well Mata is able to integrate into this newest edition of Chelsea

Why the new/old boss left such gifted player sidelined comes down to one of only three reasons: either Mourinho felt Mata would not be benefit the side; his playing would unhelpful to the player himself (and, by extension, Chelsea) or - most headline-grabbingly - it's personal.

Whilie Mourinho has form for playing the man, it's almost inconceivable he'd choose the even-tempered Mata as a sitting target for this kind of vitriol, connections with Rafael Benitez, Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos notwithstanding.  Thus, it's fair to assume that his reasoning is probably tactical.

This is concerning, as Mourinho has suggested that Mata's game didn't suit his plans.  Even to the most appreciative eye, Jose's clubs tend towards brutally effective football rather than aesthetics, meaning he envisions a future for Chelsea which doesn't exploit the strengths of a willo'-the-wisp like Mata.  While it's true that Mourinho has encouraged great performances from players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Milito, employing his unusual brand of discipline to an utter professional like Mata seems reductive and somewhat counterproductive. Finding someone who can fault Juan Mata for the failed title challenges of 2011-12 and 2012-13 is like trying to find a introvert in the Big Brother house.

Minimalising Juan Mata's football might be the easiest way for Jose Mourinho to get results, but it also counts as a (admittedly petty) crime against the sport.  Managers are paid to get results; this particular manager chooses to do so in the simplest and most straightforward method possible.  With the force of personality Mourinho wields - and the utter professionalism displayed by his player - it appears likely that the requisite changes will be made and Mata will adapt to play Jose-ball.


Chelsea will be richer for it, but the Premiership may be immeasurably worse.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Di Canio, the Iron-yoked one-trick pony

Paolo Di Canio is no longer manager at Sunderland.  This must surely please most Mackem players and fans, as his thirteen-game shift produced more transfers than points won (nine from a possible 39).  His tenure ended with open popular revolt, with former captain Lee Cattermole allegedly speaking up for a free and united dressing room.

A victim of the second law of thermodynamics, Di Canio generated too much friction for his methods to be anything like sustainable.  His regular post-game player filleting was car-crash-interesting – and perhaps warranted – but ultimately meant his players sensed the division between manager and players; the blame was theirs, the credit his.  His refusal to temper his attitudes, perhaps the secret of his success as a player, was his undoing as a Premier League manager.

His story mimics that of Paul Ince, the former England captain out of his depth when he was signed from MK Dons to manage Blackburn Rovers.  Using genuine old-skool methods, Ince found himself bereft first of player confidence, and then of a job.  He only recently returned to as high as Championship standard.

The phrase “he doesn’t know when he’s beaten” is often used to compliment players.  It describes an individual of singular will who keeps throwing himself at challenges, hoping that brute force and redoubled effort will substitute for superior firepower.  In management, it’s a far less glittering reference.  The only tools a manager has are his tactical brain and communication skill; these must be refined and employed with tact in order to reach goals.  Much is made of Sir Alex Ferguson’s judicious use the hairdryer; however his best moments came not with bulging eyes and red cheeks but with backroom whispers, cod psychology and press-conference anecdotes.  The brightest days of Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Jupp Heynckes aren’t the product of shouts but of smiles.

It’s debatable whether Paolo Di Canio was ever able to relate to such a job-lot of Sunderland players, even if he had the inclination.  Had he sought to, the public dressing downs would have ceased – allowable in the lower profile Football League and taboo with myriad cameras focused on the Premiership.  Iron will became something of an iron yoke: he was a managerial one-trick pony; found out quickly and easily.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

FFA optimistic to a fault, wants World Cup refund from FIFA

Since missing out on the 2022 World Cup in December 2010, the Football Federation of Australia and has remained almost piously silent.  Despite changing chief executives, boasting one of Asia’s best teams, a domestic league that continues to grow and the impending rollout of the new FFA Cup, a knockout competition involving clubs from the A-League and various lower-tier leagues across the country, the Federation’s mantra since late 2010 has been “don’t mention the war”.

Today the war got mentioned like Basil Fawlty. 

This morning, via major benefactor and Chairman Frank Lowy, the FFA requested FIFA pay back the the $43 million spent by the nation on their failed 2022 World Cup bid.  The move results from FIFA tacitly acknowledging that the tournament to be staged in Qatar will almost certainly be played in the northern winter to avoid local temperatures in excess of 40° Celsius.  This understanding is also a significant backtrack on prior statements made by executives both from FIFA and the Qatari bid commission.

With a  new Cup tournament beginning in 2014 and hopes of replacing coach Holger Osieck with someone more personable/charismatic/nurturing – and therefore more expensive – either before or after next year’s Big Dance, that $43 million would really help Australian football.  That half-a-latte chipped in by every Australian constitutes more ready cash than the FFA could ever hope to see again and so would be very handy – especially if Guus Hiddink’s back in the frame (which he’s not).

The reparation request suggests that the FFA wouldn’t have placed the bid had they known that changing tournament dates was possible.  The request is also framed by a particularly murky bid process which is still being “investigated” by FIFA’s ethics committee. 

Even with the obtuse and confused selection method, Chairman Frank Lowy’s position is both optimistic and curious.  Despite – because of? – widespread misgivings as to the integrity behind the bid process, some of the blame for the loss must be placed at the callow nature of Australian football administration.  The FFA entered a competitive bid situation against powers like USA, Qatar and Japan administered by a body with only one hard and fast guiding tenet – money usually talks.  And the Australians’ $43 million is a whisper when compared with what Gulf States are able to bawl.

In retrospect, it’s tough to work out why the FFA ever thought they were anywhere near pole position.

FIFA will not grant the request – why should they?  If they were to recompense their irritated Aussies, then they open themselves up to the lawyer’s best frenemy, precedent.  Any club who felt irked by a hosting decision (and Australia had reasons to be very annoyed indeed) could then expect to request – or sue – the governing body and pocket all or part of what they spent.  This puts the Australian party line on a par with the Ireland requesting to be a 33rd team at the 2010 World Cup.

It’s somewhat comforting to know that the FFA hasn’t abandoned all of its resentment towards the FIFA executive: Australia was (now, perhaps na├»vely) seen as one of the frontrunners to host the tournament yet received only one vote.  But the manifestation of that resentment now makes the FFA an object of footballing derision.  While the sentiments of the FFA represent those of the greater Australian populace, they are far from realistic expectation and have only tenuous legal basis.

When Ireland requested a trip to South Africa, FIFA probably laughed privately before responding with a courteous negative.  Watch them do the same with Australia.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Plus/minus, Tottenham Hotspur, September 12th 2013

Player
G
Min
GS
GA
+/-
Scored/90
Conc/90
Lloris
3
270
2
1
1
0.667
0.333
Walker
3
270
2
1
1
0.667
0.333
Rose
3
266
2
1
1
0.677
0.338
Vertonghen
3
270
2
1
1
0.667
0.333
Dawson
3
270
2
1
1
0.667
0.333
Lennon
1
90
1
0
1
1.000
0.000
Paulinho
3
270
2
1
1
0.667
0.333
Dembele
3
190
2
1
1
0.947
0.474
Chadli
3
270
2
1
1
0.667
0.333
Sigurdsson
2
116
1
0
1
0.776
0.000
Soldado
3
254
2
1
1
0.709
0.354
Capoue
3
198
1
1
0
0.455
0.455
Defoe
3
37
0
0
0
0.000
0.000
Kaboul
1
4
0
0
0
0.000
0.000
Sandro
2
17
0
0
0
0.000
0.000
Townsend
2
163
1
1
0
0.552
0.552
Lamela
1
15
0
0
0
0.000
0.000
Games
Palace (A)
1 – 0
Swansea (H)
1 – 0
Arsenal (A)
0 – 1

Plus/minus, Southampton FC, September 12th 2013

Player
G
Min
GS
GA
+/-
Scored/90
Conc/90
Boruc
3
270
2
2
0
0.667
0.667
Lovren
3
270
2
2
0
0.667
0.667
Fonte
3
270
2
2
0
0.667
0.667
Chambers
3
270
2
2
0
0.667
0.667
Shaw
2
135
2
1
1
1.333
0.667
Schneiderlin
3
207
1
2
-1
0.435
0.870
Wanyama
3
270
2
2
0
0.667
0.667
Ward-Prowse
3
270
2
2
0
0.667
0.667
Lambert
3
270
2
2
0
0.667
0.667
Rodriguez
2
90
1
1
0
1.000
1.000
Lallana
3
201
0
1
-1
0.000
0.448
Ramirez
3
69
2
1
1
2.609
1.304
Davis
2
30
1
0
1
3.000
0.000
Cork
1
0
0
0
0
#DIV/0!
#DIV/0!
Clyne
1
45
1
0
1
2.000
0.000
Osvaldo
2
123
1
1
0
0.732
0.732
Fox
1
90
0
1
-1
0.000
1.000
Games
West Brom (A)
1 - 0
Sunderland (H)
1 - 1
Norwich City (A)
0 - 1