Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Has England’s Firepower Burnt Out?

Amidst all of the transfer deadline chaos I found a moment to look at the England squad for the upcoming (and crucial) Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Wales. Any slip could leave England in real danger of not qualifying as group winners with their final game away at Montenegro in October. Montenegro being their main rivals to topping the group. A country that has existed for 5 years and has a population of 625,000. Christ, times have changed.  

Like most English football fans I am the most eternal of optimists when it comes to the national team. Or at least I was until the morning of 27th June 2010. That day England were absolutely tore apart by their worst of enemies – Ze Germans. The English defence was pitiful whilst its attack looked completely devoid of ideas. Although the defending that day was awful it was actually a rarity to see it that bad. The woeful attacking however had been a recurring theme in that simply embarrassing World Cup. 3 goals in 4 games against backlines from the likes of Algeria and Slovenia. Looking at the current crop that Fabio has called up I can’t help but think, when did our forward line begin to look so average?

Wayne Rooney, Andy Carroll, Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe are the four strikers that Mr. Capello has selected for the impending qualifiers. There aren’t any possible striking selections out injured at the moment so we would assume that these four players are the England coach’s best options. Let’s compare these players with the four forwards that Glenn Hoddle selected for France 1998 – Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Michael Owen and ‘Big’ Les Ferdinand. They say the stats don’t lie so shall we see if there is a talent gap?

The class of ’11 have a collaborative total of 128 caps and 45 goals at a rate of a goal every 2.84 games. The class of ’98 had at that stage a collaborative total of 94 caps and 33 goals at a rate of a goal every 2.85 games. So, unless you are the most nit-picking of readers, it’s even stevens.

What about league form, the criteria that qualifies these players (past and present) to play for the national team. Well we are talking about strikers here, how many times have these guys scored 20 league goals in a top flight season of English football? Between Fabio’s current crop they have done this twice, Rooney and Bent both achieved this in the season preceding the 2010 World Cup. Some would have thought this was a good omen. Some would have been bloody wrong then wouldn’t they?

Alan Shearer et al really prove their worth in the domestic stakes. At the time of France ‘98 between the four English strikers they had scored 20 goals in the top flight EIGHT times. Shearer himself had scored over 30 league goals on three different occasions. This dwarfs the efforts of the current England marksmen.  Surely this shows that over the last ten years or so that the strikers of this country have lost their edge and weakened in ability as a collective.

Sure you could make excuses for England’s current four front men. Wayne Rooney hasn’t often been played as an out-and-out striker. Andy Carroll is still only 22, his career is still ahead of him. Fair points. However – Teddy Sheringham rarely played as an out-and-out striker. In 1998 Michael Owen was only 18. By age 22 Owen had scored far more goals than the ‘Geordie Ponytail’ currently has to his name.

Where have these problems come from? The increasing influx of foreign players into the Premier League cannot be discounted. Out of the top 4 teams last season only one of them had an English Striker – Rooney. If more English forwards played for top 4 clubs then you would have to think that they would be hitting the 20 goal target more often. But the reason they’re not playing for these clubs is because they’re not good enough! There was no mention of Jermain Defoe or Bent replacing Carlos Tevez at Manchester City this summer.

Are they being given the chances and the experience to be good enough? The amount of money that can be rewarded in the top flight means that so much depends on teams scoring goals, could be to stay up, could be to qualify for Europe. So these teams are unlikely to put their complete faith in young English strikers, there’s too much at stake. Perhaps if they did English fowards could improve in their abilities and would be used to pressure – the kind of pressure that can be faced at international level. The excellent performances of Daniel Sturridge during his loan move to Bolton last season illustrate this point.

So there is much room for improvement. England’s frontline is not what it was in the 1990’s, particularly on the domestic scene. No longer are the majority of the best strikers in this country actually from this country. Until this problem is addressed in some way I wouldn’t expect goals galore coming from the Three Lions in Poland and/or Ukraine. In fact I wouldn’t hold out much hope for anything particularly special happening next summer. Unless you’re watching Spain.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Transfer Deadline Approaches: Part 2

Following on from yesterday’s look at some of the ‘top 6’ and their needs and musts in the impending transfer window, we now focus on the rest. The countdown is standing at 98 hours-ish and bums are becoming squeakier.

Manchester City: ‘Citeh’ are now genuine title contenders after making it into the Champions League and ending the 35 year trophy drought.  They have spent substantially (well, duh) and actually spent well. Rather than just buying the Premier League flavour of the month they have picked up two genuine world class players in Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri.  Aguero is very reminiscent of Brazil legend and current politician Romario. Yes, politician. The fact that Carlos Tevez appears to be staying is almost a new signing in itself and he and Aguero could form a fearsome partnership to say the least.  Roberto Mancini will have a task finding a place for Nasri and keeping everyone happy but this isn’t the worst problem to have as a football manager. Room for anymore? Well this is City we’re talking about and we know they enjoy a good transfer window. Having said that their squad is quite formidable right now and unless someone unbelievable becomes available, I wouldn’t expect to see them on the breaking news reel on Sky Sports News. But as I say, this is City we are talking about.

Manchester United: Despite winning the league and reaching the Champs League final it was felt by many that United needed to strengthen this summer. An absolute humbling from Barcelona may have had something to do with this but several retirements also added to the cause. Sir Alex responded, Ashley Young, Phil Jones and ‘Big Dave’ De Gea were brought in early in the summer. Young has added the consistency that Nani lacks and Jones has fitted in with ease so far. De Gea? Not so much. Van der Sar’s size 13’s were always going to be hard to fill, literally. Media scrutiny was bound to be on De Gea and he obliged with early errors. But I don’t think whether De Gea comes good or not will make or break United’s season, the players in front of him are too good for that.

Do they need to strengthen further? For the Prem League – no. For the Champs League – yes. Without a Sneijder-esque signing I can’t see United picking up a 4th Champions League pot. Not unless someone else knocks Barca out for them. The returns of Welbeck and Cleverley will only strengthen an already burgeoning squad and I think you’d have to be a few chavs short of a riot to not think they’ll retain the league title. Without any proven additions to centre midfield however, I can only see the gulf between United and Barca expanding by the size of a 24 year old, Cesc Fabregas to be precise.

Tottenham: If Harry Redknapp was a Batman villain he’d be called ‘Melted Face’. That or ‘Talented Football Manager With A Lot Of Nous.’  The latter has been proved abundantly in this transfer window. Spurs’ main transfer story throughout the summer has been their apparent struggle to hold onto Croatian Luka Modric. Now as we’re in the final straight of the transfer window Modric appears to be staying and is a big part of Harry’s plans. They also picked up Brad Friedel early on, still one of the best ‘keepers in the league and an ideal usurper to the enormously unpredictable Gomes.

For me Spurs needed strikers, several and of quality. Defoe is the best of a currently bad bunch and is he to be relied on to fire Spurs to the top 4? Not for me. Adebayor has signed on loan and as long as he behaves himself he should get goals. Spurs fans will perhaps need to change some of their songs about him if he is to feel welcome. I think they need another frontman as well, so we may see some action in the coming days. Scott Parker is supposedly in talks with the Lilywhites and he’d be a great signing, adding steel and depth to Tottenham’s centre-midfield. If Spurs want to be in the Champions League next year they need to score more goals and improve their away form. The Levy-Redknapp combination has less than 5 or so days to make the moves to achievable this. A tall but attainable task.  

Forget about teams for a second, what about players? Who is looking to further themselves / bolster their pay packets? ‘Public Enemy No.1’ Joey Barton made his debut for QPR today. His collaboration with Neil Warnock will at least be entertaining if a little poisonous. Barton’s haircut is poisonous in itself.

Stoke are still looking for a target man so Peter Crouch and Carlton Cole should keep their phones on. Especially if they expect to stay in Fabio’s 2012 plans. If he has any.  Fellow England’er Gary Cahill is also the subject of much speculation at the moment. Bolton boss Owen Coyle has quite a refreshingly open stance, admitting that Cahill can go for £17 million and that potential suitors should put up or shut up. Arsene Wenger has done neither with a somewhat silly bid of £6 million. Not sure the Coyles will be travelling south to spend Xmas with the Wengers this year.

Whatever happens between now and when the clock strikes midnight on Wednesday night there is sure to be excitement, controversy and millions of pounds. I, for one, am rather looking forward to it.

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Transfer Deadline Approaches: Part 1

What do I think of the transfer window? Well, I bloody love it. Well I love deadline day. It’s a rare phenomenon in football. It’s like a tornado is about to hit Premier League Town and all the clubs rush to the supermarket to gather any supplies they can before it hits. Some spend wisely and some take a gamble. Some spend ridiculous amounts (Andy Carroll - £35 fu**ing million?!) and others make a signing for the sake of it. Marcus Bent has made a career out of clubs making signings for the sake of it. Transfers become enjoyable for the neutral during this period of chaos.

To be honest one of the main reasons I look forward to deadline day is the end of ‘transfer speculation’.  In the days before a transfer window speculation was obviously  still rife but it could run at a steady speed all season, no need for the concentrated levels we now have in August and January. According to their website if Man United had bought every player they’d been linked with they’d of spent over a billion this summer. Don’t be silly. That kind of money is reserved to pay for Sir Alex’s various F.A. fines throughout the year.  

Finally, we can only have a true prediction of how each team will fare once the transfer window closes and as football fans we bloody love to predict. So here I look at what I feel some of the ‘top 6’ need to do in the next 122 hours to hit their respective heights this season. 

Arsenal: ‘Circus Master Wenger’ – “Roll up, roll up for the Arsenal circus. You’ll keep most of your money but won’t have that enjoyable a time.” The next five days are extremely important for Arsenal’s season and I think for Arsene Wenger’s career. They have lost Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri and they will obviously need to do something to replace this talented centre-midfield shaped hole. But before they left, Arsenal already needed a goalkeeper, a centre-back and a striker that scores goals. On top of this they have a manager who seems to wince at spending money. Their recent “insulting” bid of £6 million for Gary Cahill only proves Arsene’s issues further. If they want to claim a top 4 spot this season they need to spend some real money and do it rather quickly. A bit of steel wouldn’t go a miss either, something that hasn’t been seen since Vieira’s departure 6 years ago. Arsene’s ‘next season policy’ will not wash with fans anymore. Scott Parker’s number anyone?

Chelsea:  The Blues: had been fairly under the radar for most  of the summer but I think the signing of Juan Mata could be a masterstroke. For years Chelsea have missed the creativity of a Zola-esque player. Mata, in the David Silva mould, could slot into this role. Chelsea have power in abundance but they now have an element of finesse to compliment that. They also have strikers in abundance and Andre Villas-Boas (AVB?) will have a tough task keeping them all happy. Overall Chelsea have a strong squad but it is an ageing one. AVB has begun to bring in youngsters but a squad transition won’t happen overnight. Roman’s chequebook is probably being put back in his top pocket. At least until January.

Liverpool: With American owners that can be relied on, King Kenny has spent plenty of Dollar in the last two transfer windows. Time will tell if the Scotsman can gel his new players together, the fact that he purchased many of them from this country (unheard of?!) will help. 

But is there further strengthening to do? Well yes I think there is. Suarez and Carroll are talented players but behind that? David N’gog is not (or at least should not) be a striker at a club who expects to be in the top 4. Liverpool are rumoured to be talking to Craig Bellamy and this is exactly the kind of player they need. He will provide the experienced cover they need. Elsewhere? Despite young Uruguayan Sebastian Coates supposedly being on his way to Anfield, Liverpool still lack in the centre-back position. Agger and potential Bond henchman Skrtel are not talented enough or consistent enough. Whilst Coates has a lot of promise, the Premier League is not forgiving for 20 year old South Americans. Having said that I think the rest of the squad is nicely primed for a Champs League push. Although if his time at Blackburn is anything to go by, King Kenny will retire to Director of Football before he is willing to take Europe’s elite on.

That’s all for now. More transfer window teachings to follow on the ‘top 6’ clubs and the players looking for a move in the next week.