Hard work – you get what you put it

At the halfway stage of this topsy-turvy Premier League season one of the themes to take away is that hard work is certainly paying off. This might seem pretty obvious and the least fans expect from players earning vast fortunes each week but the success or Leicester City and the struggles of Chelsea have bought effort, desire and commitment to the fore this season. Here are a few examples of players who’ve always put in 100% for their team.

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Transfer tales: Kevin Doyle and Shane Long – Reading

Reading have had great success in the 21st century with bargain signing; Nicky Shorey from Leyton Orient for £25,000 in 2001, made over 250 for the Royals and represented England on two occasions and was the first Reading player to be capped by England since Herbert Smith in 1907. Or Dave Kitson, bought for £150,000 from Cambridge in 2003, scored over 50 goals for the club, helped secure promotion to the top flight for the first time in the club’s history before being sold to Stoke City for £5.5million. However, in my opinion, the greatest transfer in Reading’s history has been that of Kevin Doyle.

Doyle and Long
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Newcastle United, West Brom and the New Head Coaches

Newcastle United are reportedly close to appointing a successor to Alan Pardew. Tony Pulis and Steve Bruce were the early potential candidates, although the club denied the former Stoke manager was under consideration and Hull City boss Bruce quickly ruled himself out. The search has now moved abroad with Remi Garde looking favourite for the job.
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My Debut Season on Twitter

Before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil I want to share My Debut Season on Twitter, a review of the football year that has just been. I initially joined the social media site in August 2013 before setting up my blog with its own Twitter account in November. Prior to joining, most of the football news in the media which came via Twitter was from footballers saying something stupid or controversial, but the thought of following players didn’t really appeal to me. From my point of view if it was a big enough story I would find it through other sources. Twitter had been recommended to me for a way to find like-minded people with similar interest. However when I joined I didn’t know what to expect.

I began by following those accounts which I was already familiar with such, as FourFourTwo (@FourFourTwo), their brilliant Stats Zone (@StatsZone), Michael Cox (@zonalmarking) and Opta (@OptaJoe). I quickly discovered a host of superb football websites such as Squawka Football (@Squawka), IBWM (@inbedwimaradona), A Football Report (@afootballreport), B/R Football (@br_football), Think Football (@Think_Football) and ESPN FC (@ESPNFC). These well-established sites offer fantastic stories & reports from across the football world. One feature of Twitter which I was sceptical of, but thought was interesting, was being able to interact with people you wouldn’t usually be able to, such as Paul Watson (@paul_c_watson), author of the incredible Up Pohnpei, which I would thoroughly recommend, and have done a number of times on Twitter. By following Paul on Twitter I was able to find out about the latest on the team in the book as well as let him know how much I enjoyed his book.

Through Twitter, I joined the Prediction League via You Know The Score (@predicthefootie), making my way up League 4 before gaining promotion and finish the season as League 3 Champion. For anyone who likes guessing the outcome of the weekend’s Premier League fixture it is a simple way to pit your wits against others. I hope to be competing with as many of you as possible next season. As well as finishing the season as League 3 champion I also picked up other silverware thanks to Twitter competitions, in the form of Issue 3 of The Football Pink (@TheFootballPink) and, via Of Pitch + Page (@OfPitchandPage), The Boy in Brazil by Seth Burkett (@burkett86).
As I continued the Twitter season I was on the voting panel (anyone can vote) for the Football Blogging Awards (@TheFBAs), unfortunately none of my initial selections won but it was another great way to discover more football writers. By reading more content it persuaded me to write myself. Two of the articles which directly gave me the inspiration and confidence to were Football Charlie (@Footballcharlie), Blogging: it still matters and putnielsingoal (@putnielsingoal) Twelve ways to be better. For aspiring writers Twitter is a great way to get your thoughts and opinions out there. A number of sites accept articles for submission. My first article was picked up and published by The 4th Official (@_4thOfficial) and The False Nine (@The_False_Nine). Other sites that have been kind enough to offer a platform to me have been Sportsbant.com (@sportsbant), Natter Football (@NatterFootball), MatchDay App (@MatchDayApp) and iLovethissport.com (@Lovethissport). The latter also reviews and rates articles, which I have found invaluable to improving my writing. Anyone thinking about writing or getting their voice to a wider audience should use these sites for the fantastic support they offer.

Having seen my first to article published I decided to set up my own blog. Even though I was getting my work out there via other sites I thought it was the best way to share my thoughts with as many people as possible. Having already been on Twitter since August I had got to know some wonderful football bloggers and websites. When I started promoting the new blog I was humbled by the support of these people. All the comments and feedback on all the articles have made the hard work all worthwhile. I have also enjoyed reading and sharing other people’s writing and hopefully also getting their work to a wider audience.

To recap this season, I have written about Joe Hart’s problems at Manchester City and how he could take inspiration from Wojciech Szczęsny, reminisced on My First World Cup Memories, ranked the Premier League owners (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4), compared the similarities of Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao, hailed ex-Reading skipper Jobi McAnuff, explored who the neutral was rooting for in the title race and analysed whether Van Gaal would fit in with the class of 92. Some of the articles have been easier to write than others, especially with the amount of research some subjects require but I hope everyone has enjoyed my offerings. I have thorough enjoyed my debut season on Twitter and to avoid the dreaded second season syndrome I already have ideas for next year and hope you will continue to read.

There are so many people to thank for their help supporting the blog, as well as those who I have already mentioned, if you don’t follow them already I suggest you do immediately:-

Football Pink (@TheFootballPink) – brilliant monthly magazine covering almost every aspect of football, as well as regular articles on the website.

Putnielsingoal (@Putnielsingoal) – a true football hipster, already mentioned once but he’s that good

Christopher Lash (@rightbankwarsaw) – blogging on Polish football, past and present, and a Reading fan.

The Footy Guy (@_FootyGuy) – one of the most entertaining, and genuinely amusing bloggers.

Pete Spencer (@irishpete67) – Liverpool fan, writing on the historical events in football, whose recent World Cup stories are most insightful.

John Townsend (@jontownsend3) – another Liverpool fan, writes about his club and new coaching methods among other things for the brilliant These Football Times (@thesefootytimes)

Rob Canavan (@whitesfan) – member of excellent The Final Third (@TheFinal_Third) podcast

Proven Quality (@provenquality) – as the name suggests a regular source of quality football writing

Laura Jones (@YICETOR) – former FBA finalist; her very personal account of the Hillsborough disaster is probably one of the best articles I’ve read this year

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 4

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. The final instalment contains my choice on who I believe are the 5 worst run clubs in the division. Let me know if you agree @bewareflyingfb

16. Malcolm Glazer – Manchester United

To buy the club in 2005 Malcolm Glazer had to borrow money placing the club in huge debt. This was extremely unpopular with the fans and even resulted in the formation of FC United of Manchester. The fans who remained at Old Trafford showed their disgust at the American’s ownership by wearing green and gold scarves, to represent the colours of the club when it was first formed as Newton Heath. There were rumours of a takeover bid from a group of wealthy businessmen (“The Red Knights”) however this never came to fruition. Despite the animosity towards the Glazer family United have remained at the top of the English game. They have been able to support Sir Alex Ferguson and now David Moyes including breaking the club’s record transfer when they bought Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham Hotspur for £30.75million in 2008, as well as the impending move for Chelsea’s Juan Mata. During their time at Old Trafford the debt has reduced thanks to worldwide sponsorship deals negotiated by Edward Woodward who replaced David Gill as Chief Executive last summer. This season the club have struggled in the league but the Glazers haven’t been affected by calls to sack Moyes. If the club don’t finish in the top 4 it may have bigger implication to finances than it would at clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City.

17. Ellis Short – Sunderland

Sunderland’s lowly position in this table can largely be attributed to the fact that little is reported on owner Ellis Short and the running of the club. Since taking charge of the Mackems in September 2008 Short has financed transfers totalling £177m with this being offset by sales resulting in a net investment of £55m over 6 seasons. During his time at the club they have remained in the top flight but have flirted with relegation on a few occasions. Each time the manager has lost his job as a result. Steve Bruce was sacked in November 2011 being replaced by Martin O’Neil, who came in and saved the club from relegation but didn’t last the following season. Bruce has returned to the Premier League with Hull while O’Neil has taken charge of the Irish national team. The appointment of Paolo Di Canio was risky as his only previous managerial experience was with Swindon Town. This experiment lasted less than a year with the Italian’s sacking coming with rumours of players’ unrest at strict rules and with the team winless in the first 5 games of the season. Results have picked up following the arrival of Gus Poyet with the bonus of a place in the League Cup final. Off the field Sunderland have a partnership with Invest in Africa as well as the Foundation of Light scheme which helps people in the north east of England.

18. Daniel Levy – Tottenham

“Tough negotiator” are two words which are most commonly used to describe Daniel Levy, infamous for playing hardball and getting the best deal for the club. When it became clear that Gareth Bale had his heart set on Real Madrid Levy ensured that they would have to pay top dollar to get their man, eventually having to fork out a world record £86million. When Luka Modric wanted to join Chelsea Levy stood firm and stated the Croatian was not for sale at any price, before selling the next year to Real Madrid. Despite spending over £100m the team was still under construction with the season already underway. Even if Levy and owner Joe Lewis got the best deal financially it appeared to have an impacted the team’s preparations for the forthcoming year. Levy prefers working with a technical director and head coach rather than a manager. Only Harry Redknapp could be described as a traditional manager. Martin Jol and Juande Ramos worked under Frenchman Damien Comolli and Andre Villas Boas reported to Franco Baldini. Jol was sacked in 2007 despite consecutive 5th place finishes, Redknapp left by mutual consent after twice breaking into the top 4 and leading the club to the Chanpions League knock out round and following a record points haul Villas Boas was dismissed after big defeats against Manchester City and Liverpool. Tim Sherwood has been appointed Head Coach until the end of next season and it remains to be seen which direction the club is heading.

19. Assem Allam – Hull City

As so common with many other clubs Hull City were in financial peril before Assem Allam take over the club in November 2010. Allam originally from Egypt studied in Hull so it seemed that he already had an affinity with the area and would have the club’s best interests at heart. He soon dispensed of fan’s favourite Nick Barmby and appointed Steve Bruce. This proved to be a shrewd move as his experience took the club back to the Premier League. Allam backed the manager in the summer with the arrival of a number of players with top flight experience including the club record signing of Tom Huddletone. The club has made a strong start to the season but off the field controversies have overshadowed this progress. Assem announced at the start of the season that he planned to rename the club Hull Tigers. This was extremely unpopular with the fans who have voiced there discontentment chanting “City ’till I die’. Assem’s response was ill advised to say the least commenting in a newspaper interview that the Hull City supporters “can die as soon as they want, as long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football.” This was a disgusting retort and showed a lack of respect of the fans of the club who pay vast sums of money to watch their team play.

20. Vincent Tan – Cardiff City

Where to start with Vincent Tan? Firstly changing the team’s colours from blue to red, the logic being it’s considered a lucky colour in Asia and would therefore attract more fans from the Asian market. Secondly, redesigning the club’s emblem with a dragon replacing the traditional Bluebird. These decisions were disrespectful of the club’s tradition, but as he owned the club Tan felt he was entitled to do so. Malky Mackay won the Championship meaning Cardiff became the second Welsh team in the Premier League. To compete in the division a number of players were bought in, however Head of Recruitment Iain Moody was fired last October because too much was spent. Surely Tan would determine how much money is available and have the final say on transfers. Manager and owner’s relationship deteriorated to such a degree that Tan emailed Mackay with the message resign or be sacked. The backlash from this was huge and Mackay was afforded a stay of execution following the reaction of the Cardiff supporters. However this was a brief reprieve and another defeat against Southampton the next week led to the end of the Scot’s tenure. It’ll be interesting to see whether Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has funds in this month’s transfer window as Mackay was told there would be no signings as he had overspent in the summer.

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.