Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Human nature dictates that a lot of people tend to judge others at face value. That said if you didn’t know otherwise you’d be forgiven for thinking that Arsene Wenger was a rocket scientist or perhaps a brain surgeon. He’s a football manager that a lot of fans must be grateful for, who commands respect. He’s the man who revolutionised the home of football and changed England’s approach to the beautiful game- making it irresistible, continental and brimming with incredible talent.

For a football manager Wenger has an impressive intellectual background. The Frenchman has a degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Economics. He’s also multi-lingual, speaking French, German, Spanish, English, Italian and Japanese. Growing up in a small hamlet in France, Wenger would spend time in his parent’s pub with the local football team, FC Duttlenheim. Engrossing himself in an environment where the conversation was dominated by football: tactics, team selections and skills, made Wenger fall in love with the sport and gave him an impressive early knowledge of the game.

A lot of people may not appreciate and be aware of the extent of the impact and influence that Wenger has had within England. When David Dein confirmed Wenger’s appointment as manager of Arsenal in September 1996, he was one of the first foreign managers to arrive on British soil. Having gained experience and honours at Nancy, Monaco and Japanese side Grampus Eight, Wenger’s transformation was immediate, changing the player’s dietary routines and training sessions. The emphasis was firmly on fitness: junk food was banned with energy-sustaining food introduced. Exercise and coaching sessions to increase stamina, vitality and longevity in matches became regulatory. The senior generation of the squad that Wenger inherited from former manager Bruce Rioch, players like Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown, all benefitted significantly from Wenger’s new methods. As a result, their career spans were lengthened due to the vitalising fitness regimes.

Wenger has also always had an eye for spotting real unrecognised talent and spent intricate time nurturing it. The likes of Nicolas Anelka, George Weah and Cesc Fabregas were all ‘bred’ by Wenger. He is largely responsible for the foreign invasion in the Premier League, with talent like Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp all opting to dip a toe in the Premier League pool under the tutorage and guidance of Wenger. A chairman’s dream, he is also recognised as one of the most financially savvy managers, being one of the only bosses to make a profit on transfers.

Both Arsenal and fellow football fans alike have grown accustomed to watching the Gunners’ attractive and alluring style of football, a style coated in flair and brimming with fluid movement. This type of football has made Arsenal multiple-time winners of the Premier League, F.A. Cup and Community Shield. The side went unbeaten on their travels during the 2001/02 season and, incredibly, both home and away throughout the 2003/04 season. So it remains relatively ironic that, with Wenger’s European influence and approach, the Champions League title still remains unattainable, with Arsenal runners up in 2006.

The manager isn’t without his flaws. His composure has dissolved frequently on the touch-line and many wars of words with both referees and fellow managers have consistently landed him in hot water with the authorities. Some critics scoff that Wenger is rarely gracious in defeat, but isn’t that a sign of a perfectionist? A man who spends his life, inside and out of working hours, entirely submerged in football. A football connoisseur who is respected by managers and fans alike for improving and inspiring the game and for setting a precedent for managers from across the globe to ply their trade in England.

Perhaps he could have been a rocket scientist, I for one am glad he isn’t.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Most football managers tend to have their own unique style that individualises them from the rest. Alex Ferguson is known for his ‘hairdryer’ treatment when things aren’t going according to plan. Roberto Mancini seems to be the personification of cool, calm and collected and Jose Mourinho is renowned for his designer coats worn with an arrogant swagger.

So what is it with Rafa Benitez? The Liverpool manager comes across as being a pleasant, mild-mannered individual. Is he too sensitive? Is he capable of unleashing his inner ‘hairdryer’ or is it that his calm demeanour represents his man-management in the dressing room? Is he too soft as a manager?

When Liverpool won the highest prize in European football, the Champions League, in May 2005, many players admitted that it was their managers composed half-time team-talk that motivated their astonishing comeback. Losing at the break 3-0 to AC Milan and facing final heartache in the face, the likes of Sam Allardyce, Harry Redknapp or Martin O’Neill would have been tempted to read the riot act. But Benitez offered calm words of encouragement- and his side went on to pull off an incredible Houdini act, levelling the tie 3-3 then winning the game 3-2 on penalties. Whatever Rafa said worked.

But the Spaniard’s cool temperament has been tested on several occasions. His war of words with Ferguson, where Benitez accused referees of being lenient on the Manchester United manager, prompted fans to chant about him ‘cracking up’. He also had a frosty relationship with Mourinho, after allegedly implying several times that it had been Roman Abramovich’s money that had brought Chelsea’s silverware to Stamford Bridge rather than Mourinho’s managerial skills. When two of his own players, Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise came to blows just days before Liverpool’s crucial Champions League game at Barcelona, Benitez was furious and fined both of the unruly players.

Another issue pushing Rafa’s patience has proved to be the relationship between him and the club’s American owners, George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks. Ongoing conflict regarding transfer funds and targets have resulted in Liverpool fans voicing their public support for the manager and voicing mass discontent towards the owners and concerns for the club’s future and available finances. When Rafa signed a new five-year deal in March 2009 he thanked the fans, saying: “With supporters like this I could never say no to staying.”

His relatively kind and almost shy manner should work in his favour- but doesn’t always. Football fans like to see personalities like Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce and Barry Fry bounding up and down the touch-line frenetically. Rafa’s sensitivity could be misconstrued by fans and critics alike to be a lack of passion or inability to motivate his players.

But you only need to look at his record at Anfield to be reassured: before heading out of the Champions League this season, Benitez broke both Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley’s European records of number of European matches in charge and European wins respectively. As well as winning the Champions League, Rafa’s also won the F.A. Cup, UEFA Super Cup and F.A. Community Shield. However, the prize of Premier League champions continues to elude him.

Critics scoff that Benitez’s continental style and European success (he won La Liga twice and the UEFA Cup with Spanish side Valencia) is proving to be his Achilles heel in England. One thing is for sure- don’t be fooled by the supposed serenity Rafa exudes. His passion and desire for success in football remains unrelenting- the Matador of Merseyside continues to march on.

Monday, 8 February 2010

When you hear the name John Terry what do you think of? His tears after he missed a crucial spot-kick for Chelsea during the Champions League final two seasons ago in Moscow? His jovial celebrations, sporting a jester hat when Chelsea won the Carling Cup? Or does the mention of his name just remind you of the cheeky blue-eyed Londoner himself: the man with the passion, work-rate and desire that epitomizes his English Lion-heart stance?

Well, that’s probably covered what you used to think about him. Now, because of his alleged multiple frivolities, Terry’s name will forever be synonymous with sex scandal and betrayal. If the original crime committed wasn’t deemed so bad, the alleged details surfacing are proving to be both shameful and disgusting. The captain of the England national team, hero to millions, alleged to be having an affair with his fellow countryman Wayne Bridge’s on/off girlfriend. The so-called reformed bad boy, who had claimed publicly to have put his wild and cheating ways strictly behind him. He lied.

This man is captain of both England and his boyhood team, Chelsea. He is supposed to and expected to be the ultimate role model for children and grown adults alike. But instead of conducting his business in a respectful and admirable way, he betrayed both his wife’s trust and his team-mates. Terry plays in the Premier League, in a country where the media throng resemble a baying pack of wolves desperate to sink their fangs into a witless victim. The media are capable of making and breaking people and, after 29 years of living here, Terry should have been fully aware of this. With 2010 being the year of the World Cup, this is the last thing that Fabio Capello would have wanted from a man that is supposed to offer his country hope and glory.

There can be little doubt that on the pitch he is a born leader. It is him and his best friend Frank Lampard that provide the spine to Chelsea and England. His football should do the talking, but it will ultimately be the press and public outcry that determines Terry’s fate as both England captain and footballer. The England team is already littered with players that are tainted in controversy: Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard and even David Beckham to name a few. However none of them have ever betrayed a team-mate- and had to share the same dressing room post-apocalypse.

The moral thing to do for Terry would be to issue a public, sincere apology and to relinquish his England captaincy. To strike now before the media firestorm burns out of control and to substitute a stubborn and foolhardy approach for one of regret and contemplation. His alleged naivety, greed and treachery have caused other people monumental heartache- as a husband and father, having committed multiple adulterous sins, why should he be allowed to keep getting away with it?

The trouble is that modern-day footballers are spoilt rotten. Terry can have his pick of anything in the world. Nothing is deemed too extravagant for the player that Manchester City were willing to pay any amount for and that Chelsea compromised their already-generous wage structure to keep on their books. This time, opting to allegedly commit the most cheap and disrespectful act by having an affair with his wife’s friend and team-mates girlfriend, Terry must be made to pay the price and face the music.

I haven’t written on my blog for what seems like an absolute age and there are a few reasons to explain my absence.

Back in December, I was offered a job at Manchester City, working in the charities department. As a consequence of accepting the job, I decided to relinquish my role on BBC Radio Manchester’s popular City show ‘Blue Tuesday’, as I felt like I may have to compromise my new position at the club and didn’t want that to happen. I had an absolute ball on Blue Tuesday and learned so much from the wonderful team they have there. Here’s a big thank you to Sarah, Ian, Bill, Jo, Anne, Del, Stuart and of course, Lakey. The show is a genius idea, very informative, and will continue to go from strength to strength.

I’ve been very busy since accepting the role but, so have City themselves. The departure of Mark Hughes and subsequent introduction of Roberto Mancini, the dramatic Carling Cup semi final games and Robinho’s loan move- I know it’s a cliché but there’s never a dull moment as far as City are concerned. I’ll continue to blog about the club as often as I can, although I must stress that my opinions never ever represent the opinions or actions of MCFC themselves. As a freelance sports journalist my thoughts and opinions are well and truly independent from the club.

The Premier League continues to be as enthralling as ever this season. It’s going to be really tight in the relegation dogfight over the coming months. Portsmouth, with their ongoing off-the-pitch dramas and debt crisis, look like a sinking ship. I feel sorry for Pompey: I think there should be stricter rules enforced by the Premier League and the F.A. when it comes to taking over a club. Vast research should be conducted to see if the new owners are eligible before going ahead with purchasing a club. In a similar vein, I’m not quite sure how the Glazers were allowed to buy Manchester United and plough the incredible amount of debt into the club. How are they continuing to exist with the frighteningly vast amount of money that their American owners owe? Money is talking more than ever in football right now- with the rich becoming richer and the poor ending up in administration (Crystal Palace for an unfortunate example).

I’m now writing for an up-and-coming football website, . The website is really impressive: it’s packed with information and up-to-date news and opinions. My blogs will be about all things football and I will post them onto here as well, as every article I write always gets included on Football Pundette. Favourite the website though and get involved, it’s going to be very popular.

It's good to be back!