The Ebony Shoe and The Belgian Lion

The Jupiler Pro League in Belgium is no different from the other leagues across Europe. At the end of the season, the best individuals are nominated for the player of the year, with the league’s finest performer taking home the award. However, in Belgium there are a couple of other awards which are unique amongst their peers, Le Soulier d’Ébène and Le Lion Belge. Le Soulier d’Ébène (The Ebony Shoe) is awarded annually to the best African or African origin player in the Belgian Pro League, and Le Lion Belge (The Belgian Lion) rewards the best Maghrebian (or Maghrebian origin) footballer in Belgium in the three national divisions.

lukaku

Continue reading

One for the Neutral

One of the tightest relegation scrap has been somewhat overlooked by the 3 way race for the title between Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Who do you THINK will win the title? And who do you WANT to win the title?

The merits of all three teams have been discussed, from the strengths and weaknesses of each side, to the key players and the respective sides run in. All facts can build a conclusive answer to who you THINK will win the title.

What about who do you WANT to win the title? Obviously the fans of the three teams left in the hunt for the Premier League will want their team to win, but what about everyone else, the neutrals.

While previewing the recent match between Liverpool and Manchester City Gary Neville said “Choosing City or Liverpool to take the title is like ‘choosing which bloke nicks your wife.” This is probably a similar opinion to all other Manchester United fans who would class the Sky Blues and The Reds as their biggest rivals.

Everton, who are having a fantastic season and challenging for the final champions league place are Liverpool’s cross city rivals. Their defender Sylvain Distin was quoted as saying some Everton fans would rather forgo a 4th place finish if it means Liverpool didn’t win the league.

“We’ve spoken about it with some of the staff and said, ‘what if we have to beat (Manchester) City to be in the Champions League but by doing that Liverpool win the league?'” Distin said.

“The funny thing is, some people would rather we don’t get Champions League as long as they don’t win the league. It’s mad.

“Personally I’d rather be in the Champions League. You can’t miss a chance for that. It would be amazing for the city if both clubs made it. I think deep down both sets of fans would like it if both clubs were in it.”

I’m not sure most Everton fans would agree with that sentiment. Surely the opportunity to play against Europe’s elite sides and attract the best players to the club is better than seeing your neighbours slip up.

What about everyone else? Those who don’t have a direct rival involved in the race? Some might say that they want Liverpool to win it as the team has played the best attacking football in the division and that Steven Gerrard deserves to win the league for the years of service to his hometown club. Despite this there will be those who are old enough to remember Liverpool’s dominance of the domestic game in the 70s and 80s and have enjoyed the barren years since there last championship in 1990. This is probably a similar feeling a younger generation are having what Manchester United struggle this season.

If the neutral isn’t endeared to Liverpool, what about Chelsea? The Blues were always likely to be challenging once Jose Mourinho returned to the club. Despite the self-proclaimed Special One’s insistence that they’re not contenders, they are right in the mix. Good or bad, everyone will have an opinion on the Portuguese manager. Some will think he is a charming genius with great tactical acumen, while others will despise his mind games and arrogance. There is no doubt he will have some bearing on neutral’s opinion of Chelsea.

Finally Manchester City, perennial title challengers thanks to the investment for Sheik Mansour. That would be the first reason why the neutral wouldn’t be routing for City. The same could really be said of Chelsea with Roman Abramovich still making the occasional splash in the transfer market. Manuel Pellegrini, is really the polar opposite of Mourinho, a calm self-effacing character who philosophy on the game is to attack and score goals. While everyone does have an opinion on Mourinho, few will feel strongly about the Chilean either way and is unlikely to make too many enemies, other than the Chelsea manager.

So for the neutral, who do they want to win the league? A lot will probably say Liverpool but on the other hand quite a few would say they wouldn’t want the Reds to end 20 years of hurt, and would rather it be either shade of blue.

One for the neutral, who do you want to win the league?

 

Let me know @bewareflyingfootballs

The Alternative League Table – Part 3

The idea of this list is to rank Premier League clubs based on who ran each club. The focus isn’t just on the money that is spent on wages and transfers fees. Obviously finances dictate what team’s objectives are and have a large say on where teams eventually finish. This list aims to show the impact each owner/chairman has during their time at the club. This third instalment contains my choice on who I believe are the 11th – 15th best run clubs in the division. Following Nicola Cortese’s departure last week hopefully there are no more boardroom dramas anytime soon. Let me know if you agree @bewareflyingfb

 11 Roman Abramovich – Chelsea

Roman Abramovich’s takeover in 2003 and immediate £100m spending spree had never been seen before in England. His decade at the club has seen 10 managers come and go, and in Mourinho’s case return. Despite the revolving door in the manager’s office trophies have continued to be won during the Russian’s decade at the club. Mourinho delivered the club’s first title in 50 years before repeating the feat the following year. The Holy Grail for Abramovich was the Champions League and after so many near misses they won it in 2012 beating Bayern Munich in a dramatic penalty shootout. After Roberto Di Matteo led them to this triumph he was discarded the following season showing how ruthless Abramovich can be. Rafa Benitez was bought in much to the disgust of the fans and as interim coach was already planning to make way before delivering another European trophy. The training complex has been upgraded and talks of a new stadium are ongoing after a failed attempt at purchasing Battersea Power Station. After the early spending sprees Frank Arnesen was recruited from Spurs to scour the world for the best young talent to comply with new FFP rules but there have still been the occasional big money moves, such as £50m man Fernando Torres. In a similar fashion to Sheik Mansour, Roman Abramovich has changed Chelsea from a mid-table side into one that is challenging for trophies on a regular basis.

12 Jeremy Peace – West Bromwich Albion

West Brom have been praised for not overspending and working within their means despite bouncing between the top 2 division. This has proved a diligent approach as the club now have a strong squad and established themselves in the Premier League over the last few years. The board at West Brom have established a structure more akin to clubs on the continent with a head coach working under a sporting director, who is responsible for bringing players into the club. Roberto Di Matteo led the club into the top flight in 2011 but was replaced by the experienced Roy Hodgson before the season was out. He managed to retain their top flight status before taking control of the English national team. Jeremy Peace hired the respected Steve Clarke to his first Head Coach role having been Assistant Manager at Newcastle United, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool. In what turned out to be his only season in charge an 8th place finish was above expectation. However a poor start to this season led to the Scot being placed on gardening leave and West Brom looking for a 4th head coach in 2 years. Although a well-run club it appears that the job of running first team affairs isn’t as highly regarded as at other clubs and control is maintained by the board. Pepe Mel was appointed Head Coach this month but hasn’t been able to bring in his own coaches instead having to work within the structure already in place.

13 Mike Ashley – Newcastle United

From manager sackings, relegation, promotion, renamed stadia, directors of football and 8 year contracts the Tyneside club have seen it all in Mike Ashley’s time at the club. When he first bought the club the Sports Direct owner moved quickly to install Kevin Keegan as manager. This was a popular decision but not entirely logical and to complicate matters Dennis Wise was made Executive Director (Football), whatever that is! This led to growing animosity and eventually to Keegan’s resignation, and later taking Ashley to court and being awarded £2m for constructive dismissal. Another club legend, Alan Shearer, was appointed on a temporary basis but was unable to save the club from relegation. With the club in disarray a quick return to the top flight looked unlikely but Chris Houghton managed it at the first time of asking. Despite wins at Arsenal and looking comfortable in the league the Championship winning manager was sacked and replaced by Alan Pardew. The fans saw him as another member of Mike Ashley’s so called “Cockney Mafia” but Pardew has proved a success at the club. A 5th place finish in 2011/12 led to him being handed an eight-year contract. The return of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football last summer looked like an attempt by Ashley to undermine Pardew and force his out of the club. In an attempt to bring extra revenue to the club Ashley renamed the stadium sportdirect.com@StJamesPark. Unsurprisingly this was an unpopular move with the fans and only got reversed when new sponsors, Wonga, changed it back.

14 Shahid Khan – Fulham

It may be too early to judge Shahid Khan’s tenure at Fulham having only bought the club from Mohammed Al Fayed for up to £200m in July last year. The Pakistani American’s decision to remove the Michael Jackson statue was popular with the fans despite the threat by the outgoing chairman to shave Khan’s infamous moustache off. Following his reputation to fire coaches of his American football team, Jacksonville Jaguars, speculation quickly mounted over Martin Jol’s future. The club started the season slowly and Rene Meulensteen was bought in, initially as assistant to his fellow Dutchman but soon become Head Coach when Jol was sacked following a string of bad results. It would be unfair to say that the decision to relieve the manager of his duties was harsh as Jol looked like a man who had lost motivation in the job. Following the arrivals of Alan Curbishley (remember him) as technical director and Ray Wilkins as Assistant Head Coach it will be interesting to see how the club moves forward. Khan has promised money for reinforcements in the January transfer window starting with an early move to secure Clint Dempsey’s temporary return to Craven Cottage.

15 Randy Lerner – Aston Villa

When Randy Lerner purchased Aston Villa he was seen as the benchmark for foreign investors, he stayed out of team selection, financed signings and supported the manager. This led to three consecutive 6th place finishes between 2008 and 2010. A bright, young British squad was assembled with the likes of Gareth Barry, James Milner, Stuart Downing and Ashley Young managed by Martin O’Neil looked the likeliest candidates the break the top 4 stranglehold of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. They never managed to do so and the team has regressed since. That team departed for the bright lights of Manchester and Liverpool and the investment for replacements wasn’t forthcoming from the American owner. O’Neil left 5 days before the start of the 2010/11 season and was replaced by Alex McLeish. This was an unpopular selection with the fans due to the Scots links with Birmingham City, however Lerner was unperturbed despite appear to move away from appointing Steve McLaren due to a negative reaction from the supporters. In recent times the only big money signing has been for £24million Man Darren Bent when the club appeared to be drifting towards relegation. Now under Paul Lambert the emphasis is on youth and the highest aim appears to be avoiding the drop.