Month: August 2006

A Little Bit Too Keane?

Well, I don’t know about you lot, but I haven’t really stopped chortling yet. Middlesbrough 2-1 Chelsea. There are many issues that I could try to discuss at this point. Are Chelsea just too arrogant to win the Premiership again this season? Was it just a lapse in concentration, or is there a deeper malaise at Stamford Bridge? All very interesting questions, I’m sure you’ll agree, but I’d rather focus briefly on this question: have we seen the finest moment of Gareth Southgate’s managerial career, in only his second competitive game? I mean, in all likelihood, exactly how much better is it going to get for him? Middlesbrough are an average Premiership team. They may get to, say, the semi-finals of the FA Cup. They might, at a push, get back into the UEFA Cup. But no. This is as good as it’s going to get for him. All of which brings me to the first major managerial shuffle of the season. Sunderland’s start to the season has been remarkably wretched. We all had a few laughs at their ill-fortune last season, as they found many, many strange, interesting and original ways to lose Premiership matches. Their start to this season, however, has been almost disturbingly bad. Four straight defeats in the league, and then, on Tuesday, a comprehensive 2-0 defeat against Bury. Probably the worst team in the...

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The Italian Job

European Cup, League Cup, Premiership, blah blah blah… There’s only one story that really deserves your attention this evening, and it’s not Niall Quinn’s remarkably candid confession that maybe now was not the right time for him to take on his first managerial role. The story comes from Italy, where the Italian Match-Fixing Story, a tale of intrigue that simply keeps on giving, is moving into a phase which may have ramifications for the world game. For those of you that have been living under a rock since May, a quick re-cap. Juventus, Milan, Lazio & Fiorentina were all found guilty, to varying degrees, of referee-fixing. Juventus, the most deeply involved of the four, were relegated to Serie B and deducted thirty points for this season. Lazio and Fiorentina were relegated but only deducted seven points, and Milan stayed up, but were deducted fifteen points and barred from the European Cup. On appeal, the sentences were commuted somewhat – Milan are back in the European Cup, Lazio & Fiorentina are back in Serie A, and Juventus had their points reduction reduced from thirty to fifteen. Most observers (myself included) felt that the initial punishment was fair, and grumbled at the results of the appeal, but fair enough. Decision made. Now, however, a second appeal by Juventus has failed, and all hell is threatening to break loose. Having been told...

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The Ex Files

Well done Accrington Stanley, for dumping Nottingham Forest out of the League Cup last night. A little bit of digging and delving has established that the first round of this year’s competition is one-legged, so a place in the second round and a possible tie against Tottenham’s reserves (an eminently winnable tie, given Spurs’ recent cup form) could well await. The recent kerfuffle about Stanley’s return to the league has, over the last few weeks, set me thinking about those teams that we have loved and lost. The introduction of promotion and relegation between the Conference and the League was, of course, utterly justified. Too many lower division clubs had been treading water for too long, and non-league football had, of it’s own accord, got it’s house in order and created a national league. There are now twenty fully professional non-league teams, which makes a mockery of the big clubs’ belief that the world is only interested in them, and this has come about because mobility is not merely limited, as it was as recently as 1986, to the top of the “fifth division”. Prior to this, though, it was somewhat more difficult to get into the League. For years, the Football League had effectively run itself as a cartel, and the cartel was called “Re-Election”. It was something of a sop to the upward ambitions of non-league clubs....

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Midweek Sports Special

You’ll excuse me if I don’t get over-excited, but the Football League Cup (aka the Carling Cup, the Worthington Cup, the Coca-Cola Cup, and so on and so on) gets under way tonight, with Coventry City taking on Peterborough United at the Ricoh Arena. It’s live on Sky Sports! It must be a big match! I have to say that I’m struggling to find a justification for the continuing existence of the League Cup. I’m as much of a traditionalist as anyone (more than most, I’d wager), but this trophy is probably the least worthwhile of all the domestic trophies. The big clubs, of course, hate it. Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal regularly put out youth teams, and even the rest of the Premiership doesn’t seem that concerned by it. The lower division clubs don’t have much of a chance, because two legs in the first round gives the bigger clubs a chance of atoning for their mistakes in the second leg if they mess up first time around, and, if we’re going to patronise them with a belief in them “dreaming of a big day out at Cardiff/Wembley”, then we should point out that all teams in the lower divisions would rather have their big day out in the play-off finals, or in the Autoglass Trophy, which they’ve at least got a decent chance of making the final...

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The Revolution Will Be Televised

Well, that was about as predictable as could have been expected, wasn’t it? Chelsea, the pan-European footballer hoovers, brushed Manchester City aside with the sort of consideration that most people would give to an irritating insect, whilst Manchester United did a similar job against Fulham, although Fulham had a certain degree of culpability here, through defending in a thoroughly wretched manner. The sort of performance that indicates a season of struggle ahead. Elsewhere in the Premiership, the results were somewhat less predictable. Liverpool and Arsenal were fortunate to get a point against Sheffield United and Aston Villa respectively, Tottenham were dismal against Bolton, and Portsmouth were excellent in beating Blackburn Rovers at a canter. Result of the day though, I suppose, goes to Reading who, having made no major changes to their squad over the summer, came from two goals down to beat Middlesbrough at the Madejski Stadium. I’m not enormously keen on Reading, primarily because their chairman named their new ground after himself, but they seem pretty well equipped for the Premiership, although they’re unlikely to find themselves playing against another team that’s as lethargically charitable as Gareth Southgates’ Hapless Middlesbrough (I’m considering copyrighting that phrase) again this season. Well, at least until they play Watford. In The Championship, Birmingham and Cardiff are the early pace-setters. Birmingham beat Crystal Palace 2-1 in one of those matches that ITV...

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