Category Archives: World Football

Sterling

Raheem Sterling get out while you still can

By Tim Todd, standing on platform 8 yelling at players to “get out while they can”

Raheem Sterling has played in 50 games for Liverpool this season, that’s one less than Jordan Henderson. And in those matches he has scored 13 goals, more than any other player, including Gerrard and Henderson who mostly score from the penalty spot. He’s also Liverpool’s most adept dribbler, averaging 3.1 dribbles per game, and because he dribbles so much he’s also Liverpool’s most fouled player with 2.6 per game. And to cap it all off, Sterling creates more shots for his teammates and himself than anyone else on the team, leading Liverpool in Key Passes with 63 total and leading Liverpool in shots with 74.¹

And Sterling is just twenty years old.

Liverpool are not a tiny team. This isn’t a young man coming through the ranks at West Brom, this is a young man who has wrestled the starting spot away from big money signings like Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic. According to transfermarkt.com those two players cost Liverpool €56m. Liverpool also spent 20m Euros on Ballotelli. That 76 million Euros worth of attacking players have combined for 7 goals and 4 assists in League play. Sterling has 7 and 7.

Sterling is the best player at Liverpool.

And Sterling is just 20 years old. He’s going to get better.

So, it’s no surprise that Liverpool are eager to keep him and have offered to make him one of the highest paid players on the team. But it also should be no surprise that Sterling wants more. Not more money, he wants to play in Europe. And despite all of their spending this summer, it doesn’t look like Liverpool are going to get there.

If you’ve been following the Sterling contract saga story then you probably know three things: Sterling is greedy, he smokes, and he does whippits. I mentioned (on twitter) how fortunate it is for Liverpool that these three stories all came out at the same time because they seem to improve the club’s bargaining position.

It improves their bargaining position if they want Sterling to stay, which they do. They want to force Sterling to stay despite the fact that they can’t offer him Champions League football, which is what he has publicly stated that he wants. With his reputation tarnished that destabilizes his ability to get offers from other clubs. Arsenal, Man City, Real Madrid, and Barcelona are going to be reticent to plunk down £50m on a player who has a reputation for drug use. His own manager even said as much in his most recent press conference:

“You’re a professional sports person at the top of your game, I don’t think it’s something you should be doing. Simple as that. But I’ll speak to him on it. I owe him that.

We want players here who are super professional. Focused on football. And I know that he is. He is very much focused on his football and improving as a player. But like I said before, young players make mistakes. As long as they learn from them that’s important.”

Rodgers hasn’t even spoken to the player, but he’s already condemned the player, while also praising the player. It is almost as if Brendan had some talking points he needed to hit and jumbled them up: Sterling is a model professional but he made a mistake, though we actually don’t know if he made a mistake because I haven’t spoken with him, and I owe it to speak with him before I condemn him, but still I condemn this kind of behavior, I mean “in general”.

What surprised me was the response to my tweet. I tweeted out something to the effect of “hey this is fortunate for Liverpool that all this bad press comes out against Sterling” and I expected people to tell me that I was wrong. But the overwhelming response was “that is how Fenway Sports Group (FSG) do business.”

I knew that FSG played hard ball over their contracts. Arsenal bid £40m+1 for Louis Suarez a few years back, thinking that there was an iron-clad release clause in his contract. Liverpool fired back with “what are they smoking” at Arsenal and essentially told Arsenal and Suarez that if they wanted that release clause to stick, they were going to have to sue in court. Later, after the deal fell through, Henry bragged that Liverpool knew Suarez had a release clause and simply refused to sell:

(Suarez) had a buyout clause of £40m. Arsenal, one of our prime rivals, offered £40m plus £1. What we’ve found … is that contracts don’t seem to mean a lot in England – actually, in world football.

It doesn’t matter how long a player’s contract is, he can decide he’s leaving. We sold a player, Fernando Torres, for £50m, that we did not want to sell, we were forced to. Since apparently these contracts don’t seem to hold, we took the position that we’re just not selling.

John Henry is bragging here that they got one over on a rival team and forced a player to stay who really wanted to leave. Proof that Fenway Sports Group play hardball over contracts.

But what I didn’t know is that FSG has a reputation for throwing dirt on former players and in the worst case of character assassination I’ve seen, on former manager Terry Francona. The Francona story is particularly harrowing: Keith Olbermann summarized the treatment Francona received thus;

The newspaper essentially printed an ownership implication that Francona had a prescription drug problem, that he was distracted by worry over the safety of his son and son-in-law, serving overseas, and that he lost focus because of marital problems.

Drugs and a bad marriage are one thing, but Olbermann accuses John Henry and others of risking the lives of Francona’s children, who were serving in Afghanistan and who could be targeted if it was known that they were the kids of a millionaire baseball manager, just so they could have a scapegoat for the crumbling Red Sox.

Other tweeters pointed out that they did something similar to Manny Ramirez when he was itching to leave Boston. With Bill Simmons penning a lengthy piece on the way that Boston’s owners played hardball with Man Ram under the title “Manny is being manipulated”:

Boston’s hierarchy (Epstein and owners John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino) basically told Manny and Boras, “We aren’t giving you an extension after the best offensive stretch in Red Sox history that didn’t involve Ted Williams, and we’re also not deciding on our 2009 and 2010 options yet. Let’s see how you do this season.” In other words, welcome to no-man’s land! By not making a decision, the Red Sox did make a decision: They turned the situation over to Boras and expected his most impressionable client to handle himself with professionalism and class. Like that would happen.

Once Manny shifted into sulk mode, the Red Sox wasted no time painting him as a malcontent. After Manny berated the team’s 64-year-old traveling secretary and shoved the poor guy to the ground, the team did everything but hire actors to re-enact the incident on www.redsox.com.7 After Manny skipped a crucial game against the Yankees, claiming he had a sore knee, management made a point of getting MRIs on both knees and telling reporters he was fine. Did the team ever suspend him? Of course not. That would have made too much sense. Once the old school baseball writers started hissing that Manny didn’t respect The Game, for many Boston fans, that was the final straw.

Does any of this sound familiar? Raheem Sterling is in the midst of a contract negotiation, the terms of the contract are made public, and suddenly Sterling is all over the press being portrayed as a money-grubbing party boy.

Maybe Sterling is all those things I don’t know. I do know that he has publicly stated that what he really wants is Champions League football and that he would have signed for a lot less if the contracts had been renegotiated last season, when Liverpool nearly won the Premier League.

It’s not about the money at all,” the England forward said. It’s never been about money. I talk about winning trophies throughout my career. That’s all I talk about.” He added: “I don’t talk about how many cars I’m going to drive, how many houses I’ve got. I just purely want to be the best I can be.”

In the interview with the BBC, Sterling also said he would have accepted less than £100,000 a week had he been offered a new deal this time last year, when the Reds were chasing the Premier League title.

“If, at that point in time, I was offered a contract, I most definitely would have signed straight away, probably for far less money than being said now,” he said.

Others around the boy say that he is shy and unassuming. But this isn’t the story that Liverpool fans are being fed. They are told that he’s a mercenary and that besides which Coutinho is better, or whatever lower-level player Liverpool will bring in is going to be better. They don’t need Sterling.

I go back to what Brendan Rodgers said above, about how young players make mistakes but the important thing is that they need to learn from their mistakes. I agree with Rodgers and I think Sterling is on the verge of making a big mistake.

I’m not talking about smoking a shisha or doing whippits, that is tame stuff compared to what I’m used to seeing from American athletes. And I’m pretty sure that’s tame stuff in England as well. I’m also not talking about Sterling asking to be paid a huge contract, he is the best player on a team who look like they aren’t going to make it into the Champions League next season. The Premier League just saw a huge increase in television money and player salaries are about to explode. In that scenario, Sterling is probably asking for the right level of salary. I know that sounds crazy because you and I don’t make £150k a week to play football, but that’s where the football economy is headed in England.

No, I think the mistake would be for Sterling to sign with Liverpool. Given the track record of Fenway Sports Group and the way they treat their former employees, combined with the fact that Liverpool can’t seem to get the right players in to push the team into Champions League football, the mistake would be to sign for Liverpool. Instead Sterling should go to Man City, they are going to be rebuilding and need young English players at the core of their team. Or go to Arsenal, they’ve been in the Champions League for 15 consecutive years. And with the Gunners in second place in the League, look like a safe bet to make that 16.

There are a number of teams who treat their star players well and who play regularly in the Champions League. Sterling should pick any one of them, sign for less than what Liverpool are offering, and get out of Liverpool while he still can — before he is unceremoniously dumped at the end of his career like Steven Gerrard.

Qq

¹These stats all come from WhoScored.com and ESPN.com. Interesting side note about Sterling’s shots: he is actually tied with Coutinho with 74 shots each but Sterling took 49 of his 74 shots from inside the penalty box while Coutinho took 46 of his 74 shots from outside the penalty box. Shoooting from distance tends to wow the crowd and especially when you score from distance, but the most ruthless and efficient forwards take the majority of their shots inside the box where the percentages are much higher. In fact, the one thing Sterling needs to improve is his finishing. He’s getting into great areas to score, he’s just not putting the ball away yet. But like I say above, he’s 20. That will improve.

Can we please stop talking about England’s Harry Kane?

By Tim Todd, American English National Team Advisor

England were a delight to behold, soon delivering the most expansive football seen since the thrashing of Germany in 2001. The David Beckham era is over, the Walcott era has begun. – Henry Winter, 2008

Eighty odd thousand fans welcomed his introduction with incredible warmth. At that moment it became obvious that Kane is not just ‘one of our own’ to Tottenham fans but has also somehow become a national favourite before even kicking a ball for England. – Alan Smith, 2015

Henry Winter described Theo Walcott’s introduction to the English national team using the metaphor of a comet. Walcott streaked across the field, Walcott sparkled, and sputtered, and sure enough, Walcott’s brightness on that day, the day he scored a hattrick against Croatia, might have caused the ancients to marvel. Though, I’m not sure the ancients would have painted Walcott on their cave walls because as it turns out Walcott couldn’t repeat his sparkling feat and was more meteor than comet. And now England turns their collective hopes to a shining new extraterrestrial body, Harry Kane.

It’s an interesting phenomenon about England, they tend toward a heroization of individuals in the context of a collective game. If Gordon Banks makes a great save, he wins the game. If Charlie George scores a goal, he wins the cup. If Theo Walcott scores a hat trick against 10 men Croatia in a World Cup qualifier, he’s the next best thing since David Beckham. If Harry Kane is left unmarked at the far post in the last 10 minutes of a game that England has already won 3-1 and he heads the ball right at the keeper while the hapless defender looks completely disinterested, he’s the next Lionel Messi (even if he looks more like the next Peter Crouch). But the Harry Kane story isn’t so much about Harry Kane, it’s a story about how desperate the English national team supporters are for a hero and how little they really need one.

Harry Kane is now everything to everyone in English football an is even being held up as a symbol of what English football clubs “ought” to be doing to bring young Englishmen up through the ranks and ultimately improve the English national team. The FA are so desperate for a savior that Greg Dyke wondered:-

How many other Harry Kanes are around in the youth teams of Premier League clubs?

Here’s a clue, none. He’s a one-off. He wasn’t discovered by “chance” plying his trade in some stock room. He worked his bollocks off to get where he is and was repaid when he was given a chance at Tottenham by Pochettino. And here’s another clue, Harry Kane isn’t even that good. His technique is no better than Andy Carroll, he just applies himself better. He tries real hard and the English love a good tryer.

Harry Kane is a lark. He’s not part of a Tottenham pipeline of young English talent being brought through the ranks. He’s one guy, who applied himself after being rejected by Arsenal,

Harry was always someone who was going to get better just by the sheer volume of work he was willing to do, and by the mentality he would demonstrate on a daily basis to invest in himself. He had a fantastic desire to improve and would always want to do extra work at the end of a session,” recalls Inglethorpe. “He became obsessive about his finishing in all its various forms and would dedicate a huge amount of time to improve these aspects of his game.

That individual work ethic is much lauded in English coaching circles and it has to be, because truth be told the academies aren’t doing their jobs.

And so while Hurricane Harry Kane wreaks its destruction through the English football landscape the one true model of how English clubs and academies actually ought to be operating is left almost forgotten in a little town just north of the Isle of Wright.

England is a football crazy country. There are more clubs, academies, and fans than any country in the world. And yet, it’s telling that the Football Association is proposing what amounts to Affirmative Action quotas for Englishmen in order to cover up for the failings of the academy system in England. They want to, as Wenger says, “protect the mediocre” instead of producing the best.

Wenger’s proposed solution is to plow money into academy coaching, to hire the very best youth coaches and have those folks develop the millions of young kids who are playing football in England. As Wenger might say, what England needs is fewer Harry Kane stories and more stories about academy successes like Southampton.

I agree, it’s not the one percent rare talent that England need to produce more of — if we agree that Harry Kane is one of them (I don’t) then we could use Harry Kane as an example here. Those people will naturally produce themselves, because those folks already have that drive and desire to be the very best. What England need to produce¹ is more top level talent throughout the entire ranks of English football. This is essentially what Southampton have done and continue to do.

Southampton have a fraction of the resources of a club like Tottenham and yet they count among their graduates Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, and Calum Chambers. Southampton produce quality and a lot of it. That’s what England needs more of, quality academy players fighting for places against quality foreigners, playing in the best league in the world. If you manage to do that, I’ve no doubt England could win a World Cup.

The other main thing that England need to produce is fewer journalists prone to hype. The hype machine in England seems to be going non-stop all the time. Look at the careers of any player hyped by the press: Walcott, chosen for the World Cup as a 17 year old, dropped as a 21 year old; Rooney, tipped as the best footballer of his generation, more likely to get a red card in a big match for England than a game winning goal; and now Harry Kane, goal poacher extraordinaire, literally called a “hero” in the article above written by Alan Smith.

What did Harry Kane do to win the title “hero”? Did he save a village in Afghanistan from the Taliban? Did he get arrested taking a stand for minorities? Did he don a cape and mask and rescue people from evildoers? Nope, he scored a few tap-ins this season; one of them for England, well after the match had already been won by Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck. I don’t know much about many things, but I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of the word “hype.”

Qq

¹This same argument holds true for Major League Soccer in the USA. Too much focus is on acquiring star players when it should be on raising the level of the game entirely.

Diaby-Essien

Chelsea and PSG commit 20 fouls each — Mourinho demands ironic justice

“Eden Hazard was fouled NINE times in Chelsea draw at PSG… Laurent Blanc’s men should be ashamed of themselves” screamed the Daily Mail
“Mourinho calls for cards to halt Hazard fouls” blasts ESPN.uk
“Yes but both Chelsea and PSG committed 20 fouls each and Mourinho has some gall demanding cards for fouls on creative players.” pined 7amkickoff

It was a welcome relief for Chelsea fans this morning as they woke up to the news that their player, Eden Hazard, has been fouled a record number of times both in the Premier League and in the Champions League. And that he was fouled nine times in their match against PSG on Tuesday. Most of the major shock-top newspapers have run with the story and are supporting Chelsea and their manager, Jose Mourinho’s, campaign “Justice for the 9 fouls”.

Chelsea fans have been under pressure since Tuesday when their supporters were filmed shouting racist abuse at a black man in Paris prior to their match against PSG. After they shoved the black man and refused his entry onto the train, they then started singing that they are Chelsea, they are racist, and they are proud of it. The man who was abused is pressing charges and police in the UK and France are actively pursuing a case against the fans in that railway car.

Also swept under the rug is the fact that Chelsea were abject in the match against PSG, managing just one shot on goal in 90 minutes as they elected to park the bus rather than try to attack PSG and win the match outright.Chelsea were so poor in this match that their goal was scored when a center back crossed the ball to another center back who flicked on for the fullback to score. After they scored the go-ahead goal, Chelsea sat back and defended. When they did try to get the ball forward, it was Hazard who was the main outlet.

PSG spent the entire match attacking Chelsea and when they did lose the ball often tackled the one Chelsea outlet, Hazard, to win the ball back. It is no surprise that Hazard was the most fouled player on either team, he was Chelsea’s lone outlet. I’m sure if Chelsea had taken a more balanced approach to counter attacking Hazard might have had a teammate to pass the ball to, instead he was often left to go it alone and the result was that he was involved in a lot of duels.

In fact, the stats show that both teams committed the exact same number of fouls, 20, and Chelsea’s two main central midfielders, Matic and Fabregas, combined to commit 9 fouls of their own. PSG’s Verratti has been singled out by Mourinho because he committed 5 fouls and most of them were against Hazard, but Chelsea’s opposite central midfielder, Nemaja Matic, also committed 5 fouls.

The stats show that yes Hazard was fouled 9 times but that both Chelsea and PSG fought equally hard and fouled each other an equal amount. As a Liverpool fan who was watching the game with me put it, “both teams were fouling too much.”

The biggest irony, however, is that Chelsea under Jose Mourinho have serially targeted opposition players who, like Hazard, play with the ball at their feet. These players who like to dribble, players like Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal’s Abou Diaby, and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, are routinely targeted by Chelsea midfielders not only for the same rotational fouling that Hazard suffered against PSG, but for absurd and over the top lunges.

cahillHere is Gary Cahill attempting to break Alexis Sanchez’ leg with a lunge that should have been a red card but instead was only called a foul.

Diaby-Essien

And here is Chelsea’s Michael Essien destroying Abou Diaby’s ankle. Another foul that didn’t receive a red card or command a peep out of the Chelsea manager.

What’s most incredible, however, is how quickly the British press lapped up Mourinho’s milk and uncritically published his remarks about the PSG match. Every single one of Jose Mourinho’s teams have been criticized for their brutality and ugliness. He was essentially fired from Real Madrid, he last job prior to returning to Chelsea, because he had turned them into the most expensively assembled Crazy Gang in the history of the sport and the players revolted against him. It was clear that the players were right, since they went on to win the Champions League playing a much more aesthetically pleasing brand of football.

In the end, this is just Mourinho doing what Mourinho does: redirecting the press away from a poor team performance, moaning ironically about how his team are cheated, and adding to the fan’s feelings that Chelsea are persecuted. The only wonder is why the British press publish this stuff uncritically.

Qq

Questions to ponder: dribblers like Hazard, Wilshere, Diaby, and Sanchez are often fouled because they tend to have the ball at feet more than any other player. Is this fouling “just part of the game”? Is this something that “needs to be stamped out” of the game? Consider the NBA and their movement in the early 90s toward a more dribble-happy sport. They changed the rules so that players could no longer put hands on the opponent when playing face to face. This encouraged dribblers and turned the NBA into a sport where one player would often be seen standing at the top of the key dribbling and trying to break down the opposition defense. Do we want football to go more in that direction? More leeway for dribblers? Or do we want to encourage teams to play a more team oriented sport, with passing rather than one-v-one dribble duels all the time. My feeling is that encouraging more dribbling will make the Mourinho tactic of parking the bus pay significantly higher dividends because you can sit back and hit the opposition with a dribbler, who is systematically protected by the referees.