Studs Up


New Kits. Some ok, some awful.
March 30, 2009, 5:08 pm
Filed under: Football

The Premier League’s “Big 4” have a few ideas for new kits currently doing the rounds on the internet. Some of the “leaked” pictures seem pretty genuine and plausible, while others are so terrible that I have trouble believing that they are even real.

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I must admit, I actually quite like this shirt. Green isn’t exactly a traditional colour for Arsenal, but they did wear similar colours back in 1982 when they were rubbish.

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Black is not a colour worn traditionally by Liverpool, and the last time they wore it (during the 2002/2003 season) they went on their worst run of results since the ’50s. But the black and gold kit above is, in my opinion, actually quite tasteful, which is in stark contrast with these:

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If Man Utd do end up playing in these kits next season, it will for me represent a diabolical gaffe on the part of their image and marketing department. The away kit is particularly bad, a real embarrassment, and quite amusing.

Finally you have the Premier League’s nouveau riche, Chelsea. And true to form, they seem to have attempted to be individual, but have only succeeded in looking somewhat garish and lacking in class. The padded effect on the chest is most definitely not for me.

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EPL, the best in the world?
March 26, 2009, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Football

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I recently wrote an article on the UEFA Champions League draw, and the huge success that clubs from the English Premier League are currently enjoying in the competition. But having thought about it a bit more it struck me that, given their dominance internationally, English clubs do not produce many winners of either the Ballon d’Or or the FIFA World Player of the Year.

Check out Sebastian Shepard’s article on the subject for EPL Talk.



Bad Loser
March 26, 2009, 2:40 pm
Filed under: Football
Having trouble reading figures?

Having trouble reading figures?

I’ve heard people say before that every great winner is also an awful loser. Well, in the case of Alex Ferguson, winner of numerous titles with Man Utd, the saying is most definitely true. I do not know which figures he was reading from when, in the aftermath of his side’s brutal drubbing at the hands of Liverpool, he suggested that he and Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez have spent similar amounts in recent years, but they clearly were not very well researched. Given his reputation as a master of both title-races and (more importantly in the eyes of the media) “mind-games”, it might seem outlandish to sugggest it, but I think perhaps the Scot might be feeling the pressure a bit.

Paul Tomkins’ article on his excellent blog sums up the situation perfectly.



Anti English, or Anti Football?
March 24, 2009, 12:11 am
Filed under: Football

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With the completion of the draw for the quarter-final of the UEFA Champions League, it seems that once again the teams from the Premier League will feature heavily throughout the rest of the competition. Not since 2004 has a there been no representation from England in the Champions League final, and last year 3 of the last 4 clubs in the competition were from the Premier League. This year, since Chelsea and Liverpool will play each other, there will be at least one English side in the semi-finals, and I’d make Utd and Arsenal strong favourites to win their ties. So it could easily be that, once again, 3 out of 4 semi-finalists are English. Indeed, while the draw has been generally kind to English clubs, Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini might even be somewhat relieved that the draw ensures that there will be at least two leagues represented in the semi-final. Either way, the draw throws up some interesting issues.

It's Liverpool vs Chelsea... again. (Yawn)

It's Liverpool vs Chelsea... again (yawn).

Firstly, one can’t help but notice the fact that Liverpool will play Chelsea for the 5th year running. Brian Phillips at The Run Of Play sums up the absurdity of this quite nicely with the first paragraph of his response to the Champions League draw. For me, it is a symptom that perhaps something is not quite right. But, having said that, is this the first time that English clubs have totally dominated Europe’s top competition for a number of years? The answer of course, is no. Immediately before all English clubs were banned from European Competitions in 1985 following the Heysel disaster, they were dominating to an even greater extent. From 1977 to 1985, only twice did an English club not win the European Cup , and only once was there no English representation in the final. So does the current success of Premier League clubs merely indicate that we are returning to the natural order of things, one that was only interrupted by terrible tragedy? Certainly, whether or not English clubs will continue to dominate, for the time being I don’t think any Anglophobe could argue that things have never been worse.

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Recently in an interview with the BBC, FIFA president Sepp Blatter attacked the number of foreign players currently playing in England, suggesting that a “lack of national identity” was damaging. He has also previously stated his view that the current success of English club football is damaging the game on a global scale. But does he have a point? I must admit I think perhaps he does. You could argue that good players should make it into the first teams of top Premier League clubs whether or not there are lots of good foreign players competing, provided they are good enough in the first place. Advocates of this school of thought will point to the FA, the development of young players, and poor management among other things as alternative explanations for the disparity between the success of England’s clubs and England’s national team. But if I were campaigning to improve the standard of the English national side (which I categorically am not), then I would be calling for a limit on the number of foreign players that a Premier League club could employ. So in this sense, I would cautiously support some of what Blatter is saying regarding the extent to which a lack of national identity can do “damage”. But is that anyone’s problem other than those who primarily support the English national team? I think not.

The more important issue is whether or not the increasing success of the Premier League, in comparison with its counterparts from other nations such as Spain and Italy, is damaging world football. Certainly, if English clubs become totally dominant of European competition, then this would be damaging to the overall quality of the sport as an international spectacle. Sport needs to have variety and surprise in order to be exciting, and if the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich are not capable of dishing out the occasional hammering to an English club, then we will all have lost something. But what is to be done? On occasion, the administrators of a sport are called upon to make a decision regarding a change in the rules that will improve the sport as a spectacle, take the back-pass rule for example.

But in this instance, how could FIFA’s officials limit the extent to which the Premier League’s current financial success does not amount to an eventually damaging snowballing of domination, without just crudely handicapping English clubs? One possible answer is the dreaded quota system, reviled by Arsenal fans in particular, that would see a limit placed on the number of foreign players a club has on the books. On balance, although I can see that it is an incredibly difficult issue, I am in favour of the quotas. I love the mystique of foreign football, the discovery of a South American or African talent at a world cup, and the fear of Europe’s finest sides. And to impose such restrictions would for me be a good way to maintain such things without descriminating against any particular nation, league or club. However, aside from the debate of how such a thing would affect football, there are also matters of European employment laws to consider. It’s definitely a tricky issue.

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However, whether or not Sepp Blatter and FIFA are right to pursue the idea of a quota system, they are not alone in their criticism of some more recent developments within English football. Michel Platini has been outspoken recently with his concerns around the level of foregin ownership within the Premier League. And since at one stage there were billionaires from Russia, the Middle-East, Iceland, the US and beyond all queueing up to buy into Premier League clubs you can understand some of his concern. However, Platini and UEFA do not often do themselves any favours. In the aftermath of crowd trouble at the 2006 UEFA Champions League final in Athens, UEFA spokesman William Gaillard commented that Liverpool fans were “the worst in Europe“. Even Tom Hicks could see the idiocy in that statement. With a policeman having been killed at a Palermo match and the San Siro stadium having been practically set on fire during a UEFA Champions league clash in which a player was struck with a lit firework, I think Gaillard might have been well-advised to consider his words more carefully. However, although in this particular case UEFA were desperately trying to cover up some very poor administration which had lead to some upsetting events in Athens, this does not mean that Platini and the rest of UEFA necessarily anti-English in general. Indeed, in an interview with the BBC’s Mihir Bose, far from admitting to reservations about the league as a whole, Platini was keen to refute the idea that he was even going to interfere with the running of the Premier League. Having said that, it would be possible to write a book on the failings of Michel Platini as President of UEFA, so I am not quite sure how to interpret anything he says. But I am heartened that talk of a European Super League is at least dying down for now.

Those who argue that the UEFA Champions League has become predictable are forgetting Porto’s surprise success in 2004 and Liverpool’s even more surprising win in 2005. But in general, once mighty clubs such as Ajax, Benfica and Celtic are no longer successful, and it would be awful if this trend were to extend to the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus as the best players in the world perform a mass-migration to the English Premier League and the wages they can be paid there. I would be in favour of a return to the old-fashioned system whereby in order to qualify for the European Cup, you had to win the league, but that’s just pie in the sky. Even so, as well as sheer quality of play on the field, football is about mystery, the exotic and surprise, and if we end up with the so-called “Top 4” battling it out for the European Cup every year, you could argue that we won’t have that, even if the players competing are from Brazil, Italy and Africa.

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What a difference a month makes.
March 23, 2009, 12:33 am
Filed under: Football, Liverpool FC

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If (and it is still an enormous if) Liverpool win the title, then the month of March will certainly be remembered as the month they turned it around. Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat to lowly Middleborough on the 28th of February seemed to have destroyerd any faint trace of hope that they might have retained  of a title-challenge. 4 matches, 4 wins and 15 goals later and they have propelled themselves back into contention.

I would still grudgingly put money on Man Utd to win the title, but only just. I guess it just goes to show that the English football is still capable of producing a few surprises, despite the supposed erosion of the game’s character and culture through increased revenue.

Phil McNulty’s piece today on BBCi/football sums up nicely the situation regarding the recently reignited title-race.

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The Merry-Go-Round
March 20, 2009, 3:15 pm
Filed under: Football

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Some big news this week was that Rafa Benitez has finally signed a new contract with Liverpool, ending speculation about a move to Real Madrid, or anywhere else for that matter. It would be possible to wander down the very long road of what this means for Liverpool’s long-term ownership future, how much control Benitez now has over transfers, Liverpool’s academy and all the rest of it, and of course how it will affect Liverpool’s form on the pitch. But I’m going keep my comment on the matter simple: Liverpool have held on to the best man for the job.  However, even though there has been more debate over Benitez’s future and its significance for Liverpool than any Liverpool fan would want, his eventual long-term commitment to Liverpool does also highlight another interesting issue, namely the English Premier League’s “Managerial Merry-Go-Round”.

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If Benitez remains at Liverpool for the duration of his contract, he will have given a decade of service to the club, which would establish him as a genuinely long-serving manager. But I was surprised to learn that Benitez is already the 4th longest serving manager in the Premiership, which lead me to the even more surprising discovery that the Premier League’s 5th longest serving manager is Middlesborough’s 38 year-old Gareth Southgate! Perhaps I am being naive in my surprise at this, seeing as it is hardly a revelation that managers sometimes do not get much of a chance to repair things when results aren’t good. Especially at the bottom of the table, the huge gulf in revenue between the Premier League and the Championship is enough to give any Chairman’s trigger-finger a nervous tick. But to put things in perspective, since Southgate took charge at ‘Boro, Chelsea haven’t won the league and Liverpool haven’t won a trophy, and since the appointment 15 managers have arrived in the Premier League. So although pressure on managers in the modern game is not a new thing, it seems to me that things have possibly reached a stage where more than being merely a rarity, established managers in the Premier League are in danger of extinction. 

However, what really interests me is the question of whether all of this is as barmy as it is generally considered to be. A widely voiced opinion in football is that managers are generally not given enough time to establish a regime and correct any teething troubles. But I’m inclined to wonder, when we look either at failing clubs with a string of short-term managerial appointments, or successful clubs with just one long-term manager, are we actually looking at a sort of “chicken and egg” scenario?

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For example, it took time for Alex Ferguson to get things right on the pitch at Man Utd, indeed it is even said that he was one game from being sacked ahead of a 3rd round FA Cup tie with Nottingham Forest back 1989. But in reality, Ferguson was clearly a good manager in light of his successes at Aberdeen, and his successes with Utd have vindicated any decision that may have been made in ’89. I’m sure Ferguson himself would argue that he’s been at Utd for a long time because he’s been doing a great job, rather than the other way round. Another example is Sammy Lee’s short career in management at Bolton. When Little Sam took over from Big Sam in April 2007, he immediately set about instilling his own slightly different philosophies onto a side that had been used to a successful period of “kick ‘n’ rush” under their old boss. Things did not work out. The Bolton players were not able to quickly adapt to new tactics, Lee lost his dressing room and more importantly Bolton lost a lot of matches. Bolton’s board of directors did not waste any time in correcting what they perceived to be a poor appointment, and Lee was sacked after only 11 matches (although interestingly, he was not the 1st manager to be sacked that season). His replacement, Gary Megson, was not initially popular with the fans, but his move t0 re-establish the old “long-ball and a bit of a scrap” mentality and subsequent turnaround of Bolton’s fortunes have apparently redeemed his appointment. And while Sammy Lee might argue that, had he been given time, Bolton would be playing attractive football and finishing in the top half of the table, I’m sad to say that I can’t see many people agreeing with him.

I must admit that I did not feel that Paul Ince or Tony Adams were given enough time before they were sacked this season. But having said that, I also didn’t view either appointment with a great deal of optimism from the perspective of their respective clubs. So perhaps for every manager that has fallen foe of a hasty dismissal, there is a shrewd member of a football club’s board who has known a poor appointment when he/she sees one and has wasted no time in reversing it. Steve Wilson’s article on the subject for the Telegraph sets out the issue quite nicely, and the statistics at the bottom actually show that few club’s who have sacked managers after a short time have subsequently seen their fortunes on the pitch get even worse in the mid-term.

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Even setting aside the issue of whether or not managers are generally given too little time in modern football, I’m also curious as to whether today’s climate is so different from the way it has always been. Soon to be released is a film about Brian Clough’s short career as manager of Leeds Utd. Back in 1974, Clough was sacked as manager after just 6 games in charge. Clough went on to lead Nottingham Forest to European Cup glory, while Leeds had to wait 18 years for their next trophy. I’ll look forward to watching the film for an insight into the details of that whole saga, but what is clear is that poor appointments and club chairmen with little patience did not come into being at the same time as Richard Scudamore secured the Premier League’s immensely lucrative deal with Sky.

Perhaps it is just the case that with so much more at stake financially, not only have the pressure levels have been raised in world football, but also so has the extent to which the world’s media will debate every decision made. What is clear is that the pressure on a football club’s board to make a decision regarding their manager correctly is huge. And my opinion is that in the case of Rafa Benitez, Liverpool’s board have for once got it spot on.



The Dirkster
March 16, 2009, 7:49 pm
Filed under: Football, Liverpool FC

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I believe George Best once famously said of a colleague, “he can trap the ball further than I can cross it”. But had Manchester’s favourite underachieving drunk ever had the pleasure of playing with Dirk Kuyt, I very much doubt he would have been nearly as complimentary. Yet even so, the unfortunate looking Dutchman manages to defy the odds and hold down a first-team place at one of the finest football clubs in the world, and he even scores a goal or two. His work-rate and attitude endear him not only to many a Kopite, but more importantly his manager.

Anyway, whilst having a quick squint at another blog (as you do) called My Anfield, I came across a link to what I thought was an absolutely incredible piece on Liverpool’s ugliest striker. It’s a little bizarre, but I kind of like it, and it’s certainly different. So hats off from Studs Up to those at The Run Of Play and Fut Fanatico. Check it out and let me know what you reckon:

http://www.runofplay.com/2009/03/12/kuyt-el-capricho/