Musings on Real Madrid vs Manchester United

Is it just us? It’s a question never far from the forefront of our minds here at The Mambo and one often inevitably answered with a resounding ‘yes’ yet there remain circumstances and scenarios thrown up where such a conclusion is just too surreal, too absurd to reconcile. Naturally, given our unshakable devotion to reason and neglect for the obtuse and wilfully contrary, when opinion wavers so dramatically the general consensus must be denounced for the drivel it represents. One such instance is the reaction to last night’s soporific spectacle between Real Madrid and Manchester United. Understandably the tie was greeted with frenzied excitement given the storied histories of its participants whilst the actual game itself proved an emphatic damp squib; suffering an almost total privation of fluency, fantasy and for large swathes football. Not that those fortunate enough to have missed the match would know.

Celebrated with an aftermath befitting its expectant preview, many observers were quick to praise the tension, drama and quality endemic, with several central figures attracting widespread acclaim. For United, the hitherto unfairly-maligned David De Gea’s reflexes were greeted with understandable awe, although less warranted accolades awaited the more prosaic offerings of Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney. Bizarrely, the latter was singled-out for his selflessness and willingness to affect an alien role in order to serve the team rather than for the merit of his actual performance. Of course, this is nothing new for Rooney, who for considerable periods of his career has been absent from his favoured position, which may play to his laudable enthusiasm but has largely dimmed the inherent excitement of his game, as artistry has gradually and lamentably been devoured by efficiency.

Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Alex Ferguson will leave the Spanish capital pleased with his charges’ efforts. Despite occasional defensive naivety enveloping their domestic displays, Ferguson’s latter-career continental caution underpinned a showing founded far more upon fortitude rather than flamboyance. True, his team ostensibly lined-up with 3 forwards but Rooney and Welbeck were employed primarily for their energy and endeavour rather than any great intent in supporting the often-isolated Robin van Persie. The success of the ploy however remained evident in the fact that had the Dutchman not fell foul of uncharacteristic profligacy, then his team could approach the return fixture from a winning position.

Still, as it stands Ferguson should still enter that fixture at greater ease than his counterpart, José Mourinho. With typical bravado, the Portuguese has insisted that the tie remains in the balance with the first leg draw favouring neither side. In spite of such conceit, in reality he surely appreciates his adversary’s advantage, even if such acceptance would signify acknowledgement of his own failures and moments of self-effacing grace and candour are an utterly foreign concept to Mourinho. Although in the midst of a league campaign mired in mutiny and mediocrity, Madrid’s opulent squad ensured their status as most neutral’s favourites to progress. Predictably, they dominated both territory and possession yet their lack of comfort in breaching deep defences was gauchely prominent, a typical Mourinho deficiency, with this Madrid set-up to play counter-attacking football, which when allowed space is frequently devastating but against massed defences, their lack of comfort can be alarming, even negligent considering the lavish gifts of those at the coach’s disposal.

Given the technical class of the likes of Xabi Alonso, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema and particularly the gloriously inventive Mesut Ozil, Madrid’s unease in creating was startling, with a graphic appearing around the 70 minute mark illustrating that neither side, for all their talent, could boast a pass completion rate of above 65%. Consequently, the home team were frequently forced into resorting to speculative long-range efforts with the ever-eager, impatient Cristiano Ronaldo forever happy to be indulged, as their lack of passing fluency bordered on the embarrassing. Still, Ronaldo’s lust for recognition was satisfied by his thunderous header which would level the scores on the night. Whilst his leap was impressive, such a finish is the sort that has habitually led excitable cretins to label the forward the game’s most ‘complete’ player, as though jumping and heading in conjunction with running and shooting are the only attributes required of an elite footballer. That aside however, Ronaldo’s performace was standard fare with flashy tricks interspersed with the usual frustrations from a player who although not anonymous was far from ominous. Oddly, the usually-excellent Sid Lowe of The Guardian saw such a fitful threat as sufficient to post a piece praising the Portuguese’s big game prominence, even in failing to facilitate a home victory for the favourites.

Ultimately, as the inferior set of individuals, Utd’s pragmatism was perhaps as necessary as it was probable, which was likely to prevent Wednesday’s match from entering the pantheon of iconic encounters between 2 of Europe’s most illustrious clubs. Still, few would have predicted the ensuing skull-creaking tedium to rank closer to the infamous entertainment-vacuum of the Liverpool vs Chelsea ‘shit on a stick’ games of a few years previous (little surprise that Mourinho was then Chelsea’s manager) and offer such an insipid, uninspiring advert for the upper-echelons of European competition, even if it did provide an excellent advert for the concurrent Shakhtar Donetsk vs Borussia Dortmund fixture.

DC

Diminishing returns for Argentina?

‘Aesthetics are no longer a priority…Teams are becoming more defensive, players are focused purely on fitness…Teams are playing worse than 10 years ago.’ So went Maxi Rodríguez’s assessment of the current state of Argentina’s Primera Division, a competition native to a land where the game’s higher arts have long been revered and one where the number 10; the enganche, has assumed an almost mythic reverence. However, upon returning from a decade in Europe, Rodríguez discerns a decline in standards. A member of his nation’s last victorious side at South America’s biennial under 20 championships, Rodríguez will have watched on as Argentina were subject to a limp, ignominious first round exit as hosts at this year’s competition. Indeed, a gloomy narrative of faltering youth development would appear fulfilled by the country’s recent failings at a level where they once enjoyed peerless success under the title-laden 13 year reign of José Pekerman and his successor Hugo Tocalli.

Despite local optimism hailing a return to the success of the Pekerman era and excited talk of a potentially explosive front 5 numbering Juan ‘Guarani Messi’ Iturbe, Alan Ruiz, Manuel Lanzini and the Racing Club pairing of left winger Ricky Centurión and striker Luciano Vietto, Argentina cut a disjointed, defensive inept team sadly lacking the craft and cohesion of old. Iturbe, highly-skilled but individualistic to a fault brought his frustrations since his much-vaunted but ill-feted switch to Porto with him whilst Ruiz, the incumbent of the fabled number 10 shirt, although a fine prospect is unlikely to trouble the pantheon of his truly distinguished predecessors. Likewise Lanzini, nimble and bright but perhaps destined to fall short of delivering upon the promise his River Plate pedigree would predict, with Centurión remaining raw yet with flashes of talent that invite the comparisons made with compatriot Ángel Di María, an u-20 world champion in 2007. Only Vietto, sharp and lithe came anywhere close to delivering upon his billing as Argentina failed to qualify for the summer’s u-20 World Cup, to be held in Turkey. Discomfortingly for the competition’s record winners, a run which included 5 triumphs in 12 years under Pekerman and Tocalli, their absence will be their 2nd in the last 3 attempts as an undistinguished crop spearheaded by Benfica winger Eduardo Salvio fell short in 2009.

In truth, Argentina’s pedigree at South American level has long been less impressive than their performances on the world stage, with both Brazil and Uruguay boasting superior records. Certainly, the presence of Diego Maradona in 1979 and Lionel Messi in 2005 could not ensure regional supremacy, even if both would go on to inspire victory on the global stage in the same years. Maxi Rodríguez’s team-mates in the class of 2003, the last Argentine side to the claim South American title, included Javier Mascherano and the forwards of Fernando Cavenaghi and Carlos Tevez’s calibre, just as 1997’s champions bristled with sublime talent in the likes of Juan Román Riquelme, Walter Samuel, Pablo Aimar and Esteban Cambiasso, with the latter returning to defend the crown in 1999, propelled by the goals of Luciano Galletti. Perceptively, 2013’s individuals aren’t quite as thoroughbred.

Instead, this year’s standout performers have been from outside the less heralded nations, as Brazil and their highly-rated playmakers Adryan and Felipe Anderson were also victim of an early exit. Ecuador’s precocious teeanger José Francisco Cevallos, whose namesake father is perhaps his country’s finest-ever goalkeeper, impressed sufficiently scheming from midfield to earn a move to Juventus whilst deep-lying Uruguayan striker Diego Rolán’s form attracted Bordeaux and European scouts will surely have been impressed by Peruvian striker Yordy Reyna but disappointed to find Paraguay’s Derlis González has already snared by Benfica’s excellent scouting network. The real standouts however, have been the classy Nico López, who looks set to follow Daniel Fonseca and Luis Suárez as Uruguay’s buck-toothed spearhead and most conspicuously, the glorious, left-footed creativity of Pescara’s Juan Fernando Quintero. Ironically, the mature Quintero could be of huge benefit to Pekerman, now in charge of Colombia’s senior international side and quietly cultivating an excellent team that may prove dangerous dark horses at next year’s senior World Cup.

Inevitably, with Argentina’s youth World Cup triumphs of 2001, 2005 and 2007 being built upon the goals and general brilliance of Javier Saviola, Messi and Sergio Agüero, the lack of a genuine star turn will provide cause for concern. Nevertheless, hope resides in the enforced absence of several eligible candidates. Paulo Dybala, likened to a left-footed Aguero and Mauro Icardi, a graduate of Barcelona’s academy and scorer of 8 Serie A goals from 18 appearances for Sampdoria (including a recent 4 goal haul against Pescara) are amongst the Italian game’s brightest prospects whilst 20 year-old Erik Lamela’s form this season has marked him out alongside Europe’s elite burgeoning talents. Although currently featuring only in France’s 2nd tier, 18 year-old Lucas Ocampos cost Monaco €15m and has drawn comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo (presumably intended as a compliment). Boca Juniors’ latest prodigy, Leandro Paredes, long touted as Riquelme’s heir, has shown remarkable promise since inheriting his idol’s iconic number 10. Equally encouraging are full-backs Gino Peruzzi and Juan Sánchez Miño (well full-back-cum-midfielder in the latter case), potentially the first genuinely international-class Argentine players to emerge in their positions since Javier Zanetti and Juan Pablo Sorín, River Plate midfielder Ezequiel Cirigliano (although burdened by the unobtainable label of a Xavi/Mascherano hybrid), free-scoring finisher and top scorer in the inaugural Inicial, Facundo Ferreyra and perhaps most reassuringly, Lucas Mugni. Developing at Colon, Mugni’s unhurried probing has elicited excitable claims that he represents the latest flowering of that most anachronistic, artistic and endangered species: the classic Argentine number 10.

Of course, Rodríguez may quite justifiably point to a general malaise weakening the standards of Argentine football. River Plate’s relegation, Boca Juniors’ relative slump and title tilts from hitherto unheralded sides such as Banfield, Arsenal and Tigre although ushering in a certain unpredictability would seem to signal the waning powers of the traditional big 5. Such decline would appear echoed by limp campaigns at youth international level. However, it is worth noting that Pekerman’s 1st World Cup-winning squad at that level contained only Sorin who would go on to become a key senior international. Furthermore, the career of Hugo Rodallega, whose 11 goals in 2005’s continental competition remain a South American record (and regrettably would incite the player to announce himself ‘better than Messi’) would illustrate, youthful promise does not always translate into senior success. Indeed, none of Pekerman’s protégés fell short of emulating Maradona’s class of 1979 in lifting the game’s highest prize, a fete that currently unites them with Tocalli’s champions of 2005 and 2007. However, from those squads, Messi, Agüero and Di María have both time on their side and established themselves as consistent, elite performers (The Mambo still has faith that the sublime yet temperamental Éver Banega will join them) forging a fearsome forward line for the full national side.

Despite the forlorn showings of 2013’s crop (a failure that surely reflects at least as badly on coach Marcelo Trobbiani), the quality of eligible absentees would suggest that Argentina remains a rich resource for refined talent. Indeed, despite economic realities enforcing an earlier exodus to Europe and subsequently partially explaining the diminishing standard of the local league, there remains plenty of proud footballing nations who would enthusiastically anoint the dawning of a ‘Golden Generation’ should they be blessed with the flourishing talent at Argentina’s disposal.

DC

The squalid parochialism of Adrian Durham

Face for radio: Adrian Durham

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This time, the chance would be taken to pen a serious ‘journalistic’ piece, something bristling with erudite observations and enlightening analysis delivered in classy, concise text, as has surely now become a trademark . Sadly, it is here that The Mambo chanced upon The Adrian Durham Column on the suitably tawdry Mail Online. Of course, entering such a lurid, morally vacuous space was always likely to prompt the departure of all joy and hope from a hitherto contented heart yet Durham’s repellent rantings soiled the soul to an unforeseen extent.

Happily, this was The Mambo’s opening encounter with Durham. Apparently, he’s quite the radio ‘personality,’ (naturally, that is to say ‘dickhead’) hosting a prime slot on the ghastly Talksport, where his most high-profile incident revolved around labelling Liverpool veteran Jamie Carragher a ‘bottler.’ The Mail’s archives show that only a few weeks ago, that same charge was levelled at Lionel Messi, as his loyalty to the club which has nurtured his genius has consequently saw him shun the ‘challenge’ of transferring his peerless gifts to the Premier League. So that’s the level of wanker we’re dealing with; parochial, ignorant, crass, charmless, thoughtless and above all, skull-creakingly tedious. As such, it’s no surprise to find Durham writing for The Mail, it is surely the natural habitat for such myopic drivel as he seems perfectly tailored for their backward demographic in much the same way that Jeremy Clarkson is for supporters of the British National Party. Or indeed, for Daily Mail readers. Such certainty is strewn loudly on the article’s accompanying mug shot which somehow manages to further besmirch Durham’s witless words. Here we are presented with a face free from doubt, certain of his opinions yet, simultaneously, it’s a misanthropic expression free from any warmth or humanity. Perceptively, it’s the kind of face that even if present on a newborn would see the mother glance in terror at it’s demonic, dead-eyed stare before screaming frantically at her midwife to just toss the child mercifully into the bin.

Beneath such an unwelcoming gaze comes a splurge of sub-pub nonsense. All optimism evaporated as early as the opening sentence, as we’re told of ‘Jamie’s Redknapp’s excellent piece,’ which for all its waywardness, did at least set the tone for the quality of judgement therein. Despite such professed excellence, Redknapp’s piece was however far too negative regarding English football than Durham and his boorish ilk could ever contemplate. Where the former Liverpool man expressed his concern in light of FIFA’s recent World XI containing not a single English-based player, his legitimate anxieties were here uncouthly crushed with the flimsiest of considerations. Redknapp pondered where the next Wayne Rooney would emerge from, Durham dismissed the forward’s achievements, drawing attention to the likes of Peterborough teenager Jaanai Gordon and bizarrely, Danny Crowley, a player he reveals was only a substitute at youth cup level, before demanding that they ‘aim higher’ than Rooney and urging each to ‘do something for your country.’

The implication therefore, must be that Rooney, with 32 international goals to his name has performed with disinterested disdain throughout his international career. Such sentiment is farcical, with his superlative showings as an 18 year-old at Euro 2004 perhaps the most notable individual contribution from an Englishman at a major finals since 1990. True, the suspicion that such promise has not fully flowered remains and Rooney will likely never develop into the player it was hoped but he will nonetheless look back on a distinguished career. Inconsistently, Liverpool youngsters Conor Coady and Jordan Rositter are hailed as potential heirs to Steven Gerrard, proclamations seemingly ignorant of the fact that Gerrard, to a greater extent than Rooney, has largely failed as England player. Still, in Durham’s surreal interpretation of reality, such shortcomings were merely down to ‘mismanagement’ from a series of England coaches and in no way due to the fact that players profiled patriotically as greats were merely very good.

Further layers of nationalist, flag-waving ecstasy reside in the burgeoning talents of Jack Butland, Andre Wisdom and George Thorne, who may well all develop into reliable internationals but as goalkeeper, right-back and defensive midfielder respectively, none is likely to ignite the imagination. Slightly more convincing are the cases made for Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling, something  Durham clearly feels ill-placed pride towards, as manifest through the arrogantly asserted and grammatically suspect rhetorical question, ‘You telling me they’re not technically gifted?’ Well in the case of the latter, yes pal, we are. Fear not however, as any doubt can be safely swatted away by following Durham’s plea to ‘go and watch them,’ (advice the author may wish to take, as Rositter’s recommendation rests only on the strength of a Robbie Fowler tweet) as though their prodigious gifts will be self-evident and all will thereafter become devout disciples of The Church of Adrian, dogmatically blind to the twin truths that vast swathes of precocious teenagers fail to match expectation and most obviously, that other countries are producing talented footballers too. And more of them.

Unsurprisingly, the concept of overseas leagues producing gifted footballers is not one recognised by Durham. With characteristic poetry, FIFA’s all-La Liga World XI is denounced as a ‘total joke,’ before progressing to speculate that the result is the work of those who ‘don’t bother watching football,’ which given his own ideological attachment to a kind of Premier League Splendid Isolation displays quite astonishing levels of hypocrisy and a contemptible poverty of self-awareness. It also displays a shameful lack of understanding regarding the voting procedure, as the team was composed of votes cast by professional players, not FIFA bureaucrats. Undeterred by fact, Durham turns to the footballing Little Englander’s most treasured contention, that of rapacious philander Ashley Cole being the game’s pre-eminent left-back, a state of affairs branded (again with Wildean flourish) ‘frankly laughable.’ Uniquely, he may actually have a point in as far as the inclusion of Marcelo (and equally, Dani Alves as the other full-back) is somewhat questionable but Phillip Lahm’s claim for that berth is surely more credible whilst Juventus and Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini or PSG’s Thiago Silva may also feel their strong claims for defensive places were unfairly subdued by Spanish glamour.

Further forward, we’re told that David Silva’s absence is ‘stunning’ and that Juan Mata’s exclusion is only explained by the possibility that voters were unaware that he started his career with Real Madrid. Of course, the obvious counter to the claim is that Mata, fine player that he undoubtedly is, wasn’t deemed of requisite standard for the Bernabeu and in all likelihood, few in the Spanish capital would prize him over Mesut Ozil, who although riding the apparently fashionable waves of Castilian bias, was also overlooked. Mata’s inability to feature regularly for Spain inevitably also counts against his favour, as does his disappointing displays for his country’s Olympic side as they were so listlessly eliminated at the tournament’s opening stage. Still, the clearest, most insurmountable obstacles facing of both Silva and Mata are the form of Cristiano Ronaldo, Andrés Iniesta and most glaringly, Lionel Messi, named as the game’s top 3 footballers the same night the World Team was announced. In order to make the XI, it is one of these who must be supplanted, which even in the mind of a chest-beating fantasist of Durham’s calibre is beyond argument.

The very fact that this has supposedly washed over Durham’s stilted comprehension is a as damning an indictment of his piece as the banner it was published under and effectively discredits his every utterance.  His argument for Chelsea’s Ramires to be recognised was so fanciful that even Mail readers realised the folly, opting alternatively for a midfield pairing of Marouane Fellaini and Yaya Touré in their ideal Premier League XI, which obligingly, did much to highlight the superiority of Spain’s selection and settle the paper’s own spurious debate. In the minds of Durham however, such selections have less to do with genuine merit and more to do with puerile playground cock-measuring over which nation has the greatest this, the strongest that or the most entertaining other. Well congratulations Adrian, on this occasion and doubtlessly many, many more, you are indeed the biggest cock.

DC

The Guardian’s ’100 best footballers in the world’

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The Mambo is pretty partial to a list. Indeed, a recent post discussed In Bed With Maradona’s ‘The 100’ project and now, with the faintest whiff of flogging a dead horse, our attention  has been alerted to The Guardian’s run-down of the game’s Top 100 footballers. In such a climate, fully expect a stinging riposte to all those album-of-the-year countdowns that neglected to recognise the brilliance of Hatcham Social and Shrag’s latest records next week. Still, for now please try to contain any excitement for that enthralling prospect as focus falls upon The Guardian’s run-down. Now, naturally this type of thing is inherently subjective (with the debate of what constitutes ‘the best’ particularly difficult to define) yet whilst the IBWM selection encouraged intelligent debate, there is perhaps a detectable trace of cynicism in the newspaper’s selection designed to provoke comment and tempt tribal rage. Nonetheless, drawing from an 8-strong panel of respected international journalists (as well as Paul Doyle, Daniel Taylor and the shamelessly pro-Brazil Fernando Duarte) leant the concept certain credibility even if the underlying motivation may have been to attract cheap traffic with pretty minimal effort.

Teasingly revealed through a series of instalments, the opening offering provided ample insight into the horrors that would await. Collated from each correspondent’s voting for their personal top 30, the lower-rankings would present that there is at least 1 paid, professional sports writer insistent that Southampton substitute Emmanuel Mayuka; disgraced, declining John Terry and Victor Wanyama, Celtic’s powerful yet prosaic destroyer inhabit a plane reserved for the global game’s foremost figures. Of course, the caveat for Mayuka’s presence is surely that he spearheaded the attack for a Zambia side that triumphed at last winter’s African Cup of Nations but in reality, the standard of that tournament has been receding in recent editions as the all-conquering Egyptian team are undone by advancing years and traditional powers such as Cameroon and Nigeria continue to struggle in producing noteworthy creative talent.  At club level, Mayuka’s goalscoring record with Swiss side Young Boys was prolific enough to pique interest from Premiership newcomers without ever really promising the burgeoning of top-tier talent. The overwhelming memory of Terry’s 2012 is his classless exuberance in celebrating a triumph his senseless sending-off threatened, committed under the toxic shadow of a criminal trial for racist abuse. Wanyama’s flimsy credentials were cast during an evening in which he completed a meagre 16 passes against Barcelona during an admittedly famous upset.

Quite what criteria saw Mayuka ranked at the expense of Antonio Di Natale or Roberto Soldado remains mystifying; there are facts, there are opinions and there is drivel. The latter camp is further filled by Wanyama’s listing despite oversights for outstanding midfielders such as Claudio Marchisio, Ilkay Gundogan and Jérémy Toulalan whereas Terry appears to only be there in a crass, puerile attempt to spark vitriolic bile from Liverpool and Manchester United supporters perturbed by his presence and the omission of their iconic veterans. Instead however, it is followers of AS Roma who should feel most aggrieved at the disregard for their iconic, veteran captain with Francesco Totti’s enduring genius making his marginalisation misguided. Still, in the context of a selection that hasn’t been especially kind to Serie A (notwithstanding Edinson Cavani’s hugely generous top 10 ranking), Totti’s expulsion is perhaps unsurprising.

The upper echelons were predictably less contentious; Lionel Messi’s self-evident singularity guaranteeing his justified billing as the world’s universally-agreed top talent with Cristiano Ronaldo’s profile and fevered lust for recognition cementing his status as (distant) runner-up. The composed, cerebral chemistry of Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández was always likely to secure top 5 finishes for both, whilst Radamel Falcao’s unparalleled poaching and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s destruction of England have made their always -evident abilities fashionable enough for such exalted placing. More dubious however, were the heights afforded to Cavani and Yaya Touré. The former’s prolific goalscoring and eternal transfer window speculation mask a game based largely on sheer will and boundless stamina, with his often ungainly international showings seeing that few of his countrymen would rate him higher than strike partner Luis Suárez, who ranked only 21st. Touré’s rare marriage of rugged physicality and finesse marks him as the embodiment of all the British often mistakenly associate with footballing excellence but his class and especially his consistency is continually over-played.  Although clearly not to the extent of Mayuka’s indefensible inclusion, there is perhaps a hint of tokenism in Touré’s elevated standing, as though Africa must be represented in the list’s top 10 despite the fact that such things often go in cycles and the continent is not currently producing players worthy of such status. Perhaps  5 years ago Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien would have held legitimate cases for being in such company, just as 20 years ago ‘Golden Generations’ from Romania and Bulgaria could have expected a presence in the top 100 but both nations are entirely absent from the contemporary countdown.

Similar frustration presents itself in reluctance to rate burgeoning talent. Places for Didier Drogba, Diego Forlán and Javier Zanetti can largely be viewed as ‘life-time achievement’ nominations, with the former a scorer of a paltry 5 league goals last season before opting for the opulent riches of Chinese semi-retirement whilst the latter, although relentlessly dependable, probably owes his selection to a dearth of credible full-back contenders and past glories, yet those with opposing career trajectories are shunned.  Stephan El Shaarawy, perhaps the Italian game’s outstanding performer this season, languishes in 59th place, just as James Rodríguez, in spite of being perhaps propelled by rumours of an imminent lucrative move, comes in at 59 whilst at 13, Neymar is the only member of the top 20 aged under 24. Serie A starlets Erik Lamela and Stevan Jovetic miss out, as do young Spaniards Iker Muniain and most notably, the gloriously gifted Isco; a star of the present Champions’ League campaign to a far greater extent than Wanyama. Technically, all 4 are elite players whose market value would surely far exceed that of many drafted into The Guardian list whilst Fernando Llorente, Muniain’s team-mate last season’s wonderfully fluent and inventive Athletic Bilbao side, is also neglected. Admittedly, the Spanish striker’s suffered from the contract dispute which has effectively confined him to 6 months of inactivity, yet although available Mario Balotelli has made a comparably limp contribution but nonetheless figures at a ludicrously lofty 67.

Arguably, little weight should be afforded to such a list; as stated it was in all likelihood intended to do little more than encourage hits and end-of-year debate. Nevertheless, the flawed manner in which rankings were determined has created a list awash with absurdities. Can a convincing argument genuinely be made for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being a finer forward than Robert Lewandowski? One failed at Milan whilst the other is one of Europe’s most widely-coveted attackers and as such Aubameyang’s promotion can only be explained as another legacy of the vastly over-stated importance of the Nations Cup, where he impressed for unfancied Gabon. Naturally, a certain bias towards the Premier League is also detectable. Although both impressive performers, it is by means certain that Marouane Fellaini or Moussa Dembelé would have featured had the list been complied overseas. Similar sentiment applies to Paulinho’s position at the foot of the feature; would he have figured without compatriot Duarte’s presence on the panel? The issue surrounding interpretation of ‘the best’ provides further ambiguity. Inevitably, the higher reaches will feature a preponderence of offensive players as understandably, flair and creativity are generally favoured over more subdued attributes but maybe at 16, Thiago Silva’s position as the leading placed defender is indication of a skewed understanding of definition of the criteria. Still, for all the myriad flaws, it was heartening to see heady rankings for widely-vilified Mambo favourites Sergio Busquets and Luis Suarez. Of course, we’d have rated both higher but confirmation that their talent is eclipsing their (largely unfair) notoriety is forever welcome.

DC

representingthemambo:

Found this when reading today that Chris Hughton, former Birmingham City manager, wrote a column for the Workers Revolutionary Party. Some interesting and at times controversial names included. Definitely worth a look.

Originally posted on X-Ray Spectator:

I had been thinking of compiling a team of past and present footballers who happened to have interesting or even extreme politics. Of course, problems arose. Would a fascist winger track back to help out a commie fullback? Would that fullback overlap for the winger? The answer is: probably. Nevertheless I decided to make two teams – one with vaguely right-wing sensibilities, from Thatcherites to full-blown Nazis; and the other made up of old-school socialists, squatters and even a Situationist prankster (kind of).

View original 2,422 more words

The staggering stupidity of Lee Clark

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I have to confess that Lee Clark’s position at BCFC is becoming a bit of an obsession of mine. I’m getting increasingly angry that he is still in a job, and it is solely down to the fact that the club is such a mess that it appears that they literally cannot afford to dismiss him. Even though the club is dropping down the table like a stone and is in serious danger of relegation to League One next year.

He really is a clown and his latest comments only serve to highlight this.

I was astonished to read in a discussion forum that the accusation that he had publicly criticised one of his young strikers, Jake Jervis. I checked the article referred to and found he had done just that:

 “People talk about Jake Jervis being a striker but these are the facts: Jake has been to League One or League Two clubs seven times and those clubs haven’t decided to keep him.”

For non Blues fans a bit of context might help here. We have no recognized strikers either fit or not suspended. Jervis has been recalled from a loan spell at Portsmouth for precisely that reason. He is 21 years old and I would tentatively suggest that it is a little premature to completely write him off, especially as Blues have literally no alternatives right now. He has had his contract extended on a couple of occasions so obviously someone sees some potential in him. He deserves a) a chance and b) his manager’s public backing when he is trying his best in difficult circumstances.  

On a human level it is abysmal man-management and just downright spiteful to slaughter your own (young) player like that to journalists, and gives a revealing and depressing glimpse of the MO of Lee Clark; flailing out and attacking everyone but himself. Interestingly he isn’t so forthright in berating the abysmal efforts of some of the players he signed for Blues, for example the hopeless Hayden Mullins.  

A contemptible act by a contemptible, useless man who is putting the tin hat on a pretty horrific situation right now at BCFC. The sooner we are shot of the tosser the better.

The implausible resurrection of Alex McLeish

Alex McLeish

If you spend a significant amount of time looking at the world and reflecting on its absurdities, as I do when I go through one of my periodic philosophical phases, you begin to reach a few broad conclusions about how the world works. Beneath the veneer of sophistication and rationality that appears to govern the behaviour of those with power and money, when you look a little closer there is actually profound irrationality and much in life can depend on simple good luck.

What I’m saying I suppose is that the dismissal of Sean O’Driscoll at Nottingham Forest, and the appointment of Alex McLeish in his stead, is ludicrous.

Nottingham Forest’s ‘ambitious’ Kuwaiti owners made a great decision when they appointed O’Driscoll in the summer and as a Birmingham City fan I was insanely jealous that we hadn’t been able to appoint someone like him. O’Driscoll is a practitioner of progressive, tactically aware and attacking football. His record at his previous club, Doncaster Rovers (they were relegated the season he was dismissed……), was extremely impressive on a very tight budget. He isn’t an overnight miracle worker and by no means a household name, but to my eyes he seemed a great fit for a re-building project at Forest, who had finished the previous season in 19th. O’Driscoll left the club in 8th place and clearly on an upward trajectory.

So the decision to dispense with him is bizarre indeed. The club’s owners have now stated they want immediate promotion (don’t we all, chaps…..) rather than the sensible ‘3-5 year plan’ they announced upon their arrival, and ‘someone with Premier League experience’ (why? Do they play with a different shaped ball in the Premier League? Is it really so utterly different to the Championship?) and so they have turned to McLeish, who has plenty of top-flight experience.

Yes indeed. He has loads of that.

Two Premier League relegations with a team averaging about a goal a game.

Taking another Premier League Club, Aston Villa, to within a whisker of relegation. If one measures the performance of a manager by win percentage, statistically he is the worst the Villa have ever had.

And meanwhile playing some of the most insipid, soulless football imaginable.

Notwithstanding a flukey 9th place finish with Birmingham in 2009-10, and the Carling Cup victory in 2011, the man’s career in the English top flight can only be realistically judged a failure, and the idea that he is a better bet than Sean O’Driscoll is patently absurd.

It also appears that the Al Hasawi family have learnt nothing from the people they succeeded at Forest, who foolishly appointed former England manager Steve McClaren at the start of the 2011-12 season. He lasted ten games………

Something happens to rich, successful people when they take over football clubs. They take leave of their senses and their judgment (normally selfish and often brutish but invariably rational on its own terms) appears to desert them. They resort to cliché, banality and notions that when closely examined for just a moment fall apart in front of your very eyes.

A concept as amorphous and essentially meaningless as ‘Premier League experience’ would be treated with derision and contempt in most other walks of life. And yet in football, it takes on a significance that means purveyors of listless dross like McLeish can walk into jobs on the strength of having failed with, but still actually managed, clubs at the highest level.

(It’s also telling that the hopeless Roy Keane appears to have been under consideration for the Forest job. Yet another example of one who has ‘top flight experience’ but only in so far as he presided over a complete and obscenely wasteful trainwreck at Sunderland, a job he secured purely on the strength of his playing career.)

The decision to sack Sean O’Driscoll is a disgraceful, but more importantly stupid one. I have a funny feeling that it is one that the Al Hasawi family and Nottingham Forest fans will come to regret. As a Birmingham City fan and one well acquainted with the situation at Aston Villa, I know what they are getting.

Blues at the halfway point

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I know it’s Christmas and all that but I feel the need to get something off my chest.

We are at the halfway point of the Championship season. 23 of the 46 games have been played. Birmingham City are just five points above the relegation zone following yet another poor result at the weekend at home against Burnley.

It is worth observing the following at this point to those who are deluded enough to think we are not in a relegation battle:

  • Blues have six points from our last six games-relegation form.
  • Blues home form has been terrible this term- teams that can’t win at home get relegated.
  • Blues have been conceding lots of soft goals-relegated teams tend to do that.
  • Players will be sold (our best ones obviously) in the transfer window-weakening a team just above the relegation zone.
  • We have the worst manager in the league, a man to who is to astute management what Ron Jeremy is to sensitive lovemaking.   

The last point in particular is of particular and continuing relevance. I wrote several months ago, after our abject 5-0 capitulation against Barnsley that Lee Clark needed to be dismissed as a matter of urgency and that we were in serious danger of going down; with the awful financial implications of such a turn of events, we couldn’t afford not to sack him.

What has transpired since (a dismal return of 15 points from the 16 games played since that nadir) has only served to demonstrate how poor a job he is doing in what is hardly a vintage league. The only positive thing one can say is that there have been no further 5-0 defeats, although the defending has continued to be abysmal.

We were promised so much more this season. With a half decent squad at our disposal, particular in comparison to the poor standard of much of the opposition, even those of us not prone to hyperbole assumed that Blues would be at least be challenging for a play-off berth. Most of the pre-season predictions had us in the promotion pack, and quite reasonably, when our record the previous season was taken into account and the squad we were starting the season with was arguably stronger than the one we had at our disposal last time out.

While clearly there are extenuating circumstances (a raft of injuries, chronic uncertainty off the pitch) Clark has demonstrably failed to galvanize the team, and unlike Chris Hughton last season, seems incapable of producing decent results in challenging circumstances. I think a few points are of relevance here:

  • Hughton had to deal with a squad that had been totally eviscerated after relegation, the ever-present threat of further player sales, and the additional demands of a European campaign and yet still led us to fourth. Clark on the other hand has not had a fortune to spend but has not had to rebuild the team completely. He inherited a team that the previous season had been one of the most exciting in the division and of those that remain (i.e. most of them), to a man they are playing far worse than they did last year (with the possible exceptions of Marlon King and Nikola Zigic)
  • Clark has failed pitifully to spend what money he has had. The signing of (and persistence with) the useless Hayden Mullins has to go down as one of the most inexplicable in the history of the club (with some astonishingly awful competition for that honour over the years) and other players like Darren Ambrose (who we paid a fee for) and Peter Lovenkrands have done nothing. (To be frank, if the only piece of evidence I had in my case against Clark was the signing of Mullins, I would have enough to rest my case…….)
  • The frequency of us having to try (and often fail) to come from several goals down after appalling opening periods is now a firmly-established pattern, and the fault for that must surely lie squarely at the door of Clark and the way he is setting the team up. It is happening far too often to be a coincidence.
  • Reading the Blues’ forums and blogs one can still find a vocal section of the fanbase firmly behind Lee Clark, who they think is doing a decent job in difficult circumstances. If he had money to spend and better players to work with then things would be different, we are told. Interestingly of course, Lee Clark has been in that position previously, at his last club, Huddersfield Town, where he had the biggest budget in League One and could call upon the services of the best forward in the league at the time, Jordan Rhodes. He failed to get them up and was eventually dismissed as the board came to realise that he was taking them nowhere. His replacement, Simon Grayson, not exactly a modern-day Brian Clough himself, led them to promotion at the first time of asking with the team that Clark had been given such lavish funds to assemble.

Huddersfield had seen through Clark and had realised he was a blustering, incompetent, tactically inept jackass. I wonder how long it will take my beloved Blues fans to realise the same. I defy any Blues fan to provide me with a single piece of evidence to suggest that Clark would have us challenging at the top if circumstances were different. We’ve seen his previous record and what he has done at St Andrews so far and there is no indication he has a plan to get us out of this mess. One of the first tasks of any new owners would be to sack him.

An endless diet of mediocrity is nothing new in the history of BCFC, but there has been something soul-destroying about this season. Tempers are getting frayed and my understanding is that the atmosphere at home matches has often been quite poisonous. Many feel compelled to make their displeasure felt, whilst others feel that we should turn up every home match in our droves, hand over our money and “ just get behind the team and the manager”, as if the roar of the crowd is simply the difference between success and failure. They also seem to think that the only people entitled to a view are ‘the real fans’, and by ‘real’ they mean those with the time and money to go and watch them every other weekend. What’s more, some of them think that things are actually going quite swimmingly at the moment. Here’s a good example from a comments thread on the premier Blues blog, Often Partisan:

How many of you on here went today?

But for 10 minutes in the second half we were all over Burnley but in the end gave em 2 goals. After scoring the opener (which as Dan said was a result of a sublime Hall cross) Davies let their player in for the equaliser than gave away the free kick which was slotted away beautifully. In that weather with all the kids and once again a ref who gave us nothing it was a great effort. Lots of great performances out there but I was impressed with Zigic who led from the front and gave the kids someone to look up to.

Loved it. Can’t wait for Barnsley and Bolton away.

So, blame the ref, check. Blame the weather, check. Blame the kids, check. Blame the rest of us for not paying £30+ plus, check.

And another:

There is far too much negativity, last season everyone was saying Reading were going to be relegated around this time, but they managed to win 17 out of 23 games. Now I’m not saying Blues will be able to accomplish such a feat (unless there is a takeover sorted and LC is given significant investment to play with by mid-January.) But it shows that teams can turn a season round (David Moyes has done it year after year at Everton with very little funding) and I don’t see why once Marlon and Keith are back Blues can’t make the top half of the table by the end of the season and in my eyes that would be a step in the right direction for now. Fans just need to get behind the players and the manager, no board members are at the games so there isn’t much point in directing negativity at them. LC may not be getting great results at the moment but he has still got a certain spirit distilled in the players for us to comeback in so many games, it’s just a shame that so often we have had to go behind before we start playing. Can anybody honestly say CH would be doing a better job than LC right now because with the current situation I couldn’t see Sir Alex or old Arsene doing a better job down at St Andrews.

I can honestly say that Hughton would be doing a better job than Clark. My evidence? Last season. To repeat, Hughton was working in unbelievably difficult circumstances and still managed to get us playing well. Clark has taken us backwards. We do not need to ‘just get behind the manager’. We just need to get rid of him, as the only place he will take us is down and no amount of thoughtless, boundless enthusiasm can cover the fact that he is shit.

I have to confess to getting a little exasperated at all this brainless super-optimism and holier-than-thou posturing. Firstly, it is childish naiveté to think that we are not in a relegation battle as I’ve already amply demonstrated. Secondly, I am a busy man and am not prepared to spend a large proportion of my disposable income (and free time) paying hugely over the odds to watch a team led by an incompetent dunce and then cheering him and his badly-led charges on as if they are the best thing since sliced bread, and will not be made to feel guilty for refusing to do so.

One of the smug delusions of many Blues fans is that we are not like our ghastly colleagues over at Villa Park. We don’t make a big scene when things aren’t going well, ‘turn on our own’ and we don’t get nasty when the club appoint a manager not to our liking, as they did when they kindly took Alex McLeish off our hands 18 months ago.

But what is commonly seen as a vice at Aston Villa is actually a virtue.

They expect better and have a lower tolerance threshold for mediocrity.

We should expect better too.

If the owners want a good price for the club then they must surely know that a team in League One (whether it is next season or the one after….) is worth rather less than a Championship one. In which case, they need to take the short-term hit and get rid of Lee Clark now.

In Bed With Maradona and ‘The100′

Aside from Representing The Mambo, there is probably no better, or more stylish, football blog around than In Bed With Maradona. Naturally, our acute awareness and erudite analysis of matters away from the beautiful game elevate these pages to an altogether higher moral and intellectual plane whilst IBWM’s neglect in endorsing a manifesto of fevered hatred against both John Terry and Martin O’Neill is conspicuously absent but it remains nonetheless a fine site. Home to pieces showcasing impressive breadth whilst maintaining a quality not ordinarily associated with a blog, we have long been admirers with particular focus on their feature of ‘The 100.’ Pilfering the concept from the now defunct Spanish sports weekly Don Balón with impressive impudence, the idea was to draw up a list of the world game’s 100 most promising players, before reviewing their progress a year later. Frankly, it was a great idea and one we wish we’d had. Having assessed Don Bálon’s final selection along with their own inaugural list, the site today published their 100 for the forthcoming year. Taking in 46 nationalities, with diminutive Bolivian midfielder Alejandro Chumacero and Guinea’s Salim Cissé perhaps representative of the more exotic reaches of the range, the site’s vast collection of contributors have clearly been employed to ensure that no corner of the globe is neglected. It is a commendable effort but inevitably, one inherently drawn to certain controversies.

AC Milan CEO Adriano Galliani may not have got too much right of late but it is difficult to contest his claim that his club’s Stephan El Shaarawy, scorer 16 goals so far this season, along with Brazilian Neymar are currently the world’s top performing under 20s. Unsurprisingly, both make IBWM’s cut. They are joined by other headline performers such as Mario Götze, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Xherdan Shaqiri, James Rodríguez, Christian Eriksen, Isco, Erik Lamela and Iker Muniain to form perhaps the most uncontentious core of The 100, along with Lazar Markovic, the teenage Partizan Belgrade forward. Markovic was recently deemed the outstanding performer of last season’s crop, which given that he operates in the relative obscurity of Serbia’s Superliga may have raised several eyebrows but is justified by his importance to Partizan as well as his precocious promotion to Serbia’s senior national team. Such considerations are central to the concept of the list, with the absence this year of Jack Wilshere explained by the amount of football he has missed over the past 12 months, rather than any indication that his promise is in decline (circumstances that surely explain Colombian Luis Muriel’s failure to feature).

Still, such criteria can also be useful ways of ensuring variety. With an age limit that renders the likes of Toni Kross, Younes Belhanda and Ilkay Gundogan ineligible for 2013’s countdown, certain other factors must be employed to decrease the risk of merely monotonously repeating last year’s contenders. Clearly, this is difficult to balance but the omissions of several eligible challengers are particularly questionable. The exclusion of teenage playmaker Mateo Kovacic despite his continued progress for Dinamo Zagreb and regular Champions’ League appearances was difficult to fathom, given the obvious natural talent and experience gathered by the 18 year-old. Similarly, for all his aloof, abrasive arrogance, Werder Bremen’s Chelsea loanee Kevin De Bruyne has demonstrated that he should become a great asset at Stamford Bridge, whilst Granit Xhaka is now exhibiting increasing assurance in Germany following a slow-ish transition to the Bundesliga. Neither has been retained. Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane has suffered from restricted game-time and loses out yet compatriot Kurt Zouma, a superior athlete but lacking Varane’s class, is inducted. Likewise, David De Gea has fell victim of his club’s indecision and is omitted whilst, bizarrely, largely untested Australian ‘keeper Matthew Ryan is named.

More encouragingly, The Mambo was delighted to see spots claimed by several personal favourites. Classy playmaker Georgi Milanov, whose goal for Bulgaria against Italy in Septmeber has proved the catalyst for slew of strikes at club level, has a promise that marks him out as his country’s finest prospect since the emergence of Dimitar Berbatov. Places for Paraguayan poacher Mauro Caballero, Leandro ‘new Riquelme’ Paredes and Jordy Clasie; the ‘Dutch Xavi’ were also cheerfully received, as was the inclusion of Paulo Dybala, a left-footed Argentine striker whose talent has provoked the ever-voluble Palermo chairman Maurizio Zamparini to declare him ‘the new Sergio Aguero’ upon his arrival in Sicily. Somewhat disappointing however were the oversights of Dinamo Zagreb’s Alen Halilovic and Viktor Fischer of Ajax. In fairness, IBWM did explain their exclusion was owing to a lack of first-team opportunities but both have already demonstrated remarkable technique in their handful of appearances. Still, their time will come. Similar sentiment surely applies to the likes of Mexico’s Diego Reyes, so impressive in defence as his nation claimed gold at the London Olympics and reportedly set to join FC Porto, although he loses out to midfield enforcer Jorge Enríquez, a team-mate in that triumph. Another potential case of the wrong team-mate being named comes in the form of Universidad de Chile’s teenage defender Igor Lichnovsky, with overlooked striker Angelo Henríquez, now of Manchester United, the more obvious inclusion.

Essentially, ‘The 100’ is ambitious and hugely intriguing project whose selections and the motivations behind provoke unavoidable speculation. Does Chumacero really promise greater things over the next 12 months than say, Parma-bound Peruvian Alvaro Ampuero or River’s Ezequiel Cirigliano? Does Moussa Konaté, a man who despite flashes of potential at the Olympics has struggled to score in Israel and Russia, offer more of a threat than Denmark’s Nicklas Helenius or Gonzalo Mastriani of Uruguay? Despite getting more regular football, does Celta Vigo’s Hugo Mallo warrant inclusion over Barcelona’s Martín Montoya? How can Adám Gyurcsó’s involvement be explained in the wake of Marco Verratti and Matija Nastasic’s exclusions? In each case, we have our doubts. Still, as our ‘And all that could have been’ series demonstrates, talent is rarely enough and it is consequently notoriously difficult to predict the career trajectories of burgeoning footballers. In 12 months’ time, Gyurcsó’s inclusion could prove wonderfully prescient whilst Verratti adapts to the realisation of misplaced hype. We’ll see.

DC

Could this be the end for Martin O’Neill?

It’s never especially dignified to kick a man when he’s down, particularly if you’ve so gleefully stuck the boot in on his way down. Still, there are times when one’s dignity must be set aside in order to ensure that the virtuous and correct thing is done, with The Mambo’s on-going campaign of hate against struggling Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill a case in point. Poised precariously only a point above the relegation zone and possessed of a typically ordinary, uninspiring squad of prosaic triers, the Ulsterman is in serious danger of overseeing a listless descent into the football league. True, last night’s victory over Reading may have arrested their decline somewhat and eased, at least temporarily, the growing pressure on O’Neill but with the remainder of the festive period taking in trips to Manchester United and Liverpool, book-ending a crucial clash at Southampton as well as visits from Manchester City and Tottenham, the Sunderland board could enter the New Year with serious question marks surrounding their manager’s ongoing stewardship. Essentially, one swallow doesn’t make a summer, Martin so don’t celebrate victory over the league’s weakest team too hard.

Nevertheless, O’Neill remains assured of his ability to steer Sunderland to safety, asserting recently his fervour that, ‘not only am I the best man for the job, I am actually the only man.’ Now, channelling the malignant narcissism of José Mourinho is never likely to meet with great enthusiasm on these pages but such words coming from a man as perceptively lacking in the requisite machismo or oratory flourish to convincingly deliver them is truly startling. Either 60 year-old O’Neill will unfathomably and unprecedentedly unleash innovative new strands to his hitherto mundane managerial register or his defiance is merely the empty bluster of a man afflicted with a disordered delusion manifest in an extraordinary poverty of self-awareness allied to an astonishing arrogance. Of course, in all probability, it is the latter.

The allusion that no-one else could have bettered his efforts on Weirside is particularly remarkable given his exacerbation of the ills remnant from the reign of tactics-averse Neanderthal Steve Bruce, a man now working in his natural habitat of the Championship with Hull City, despite spending over £20m last summer. In fairness, Steven Fletcher’s arrival from relegated Wolves has proved a marked success, with his 7 goals from 14 league appearances an exceptional haul given the predictable paucity of imagination suffered by those behind him. That said, Adam Johnson, O’Neill’s other marquee arrival, has been typically frustrating. Fitful flashes of quality punctuating extended periods of anonymity and insufficiency have long typified the winger’s career as he struggles to shed the suspicion that he is little more than a Fancy-Dan whose opinion of his own ability is woefully out-of-sync with all on-field evidence. Such signings were supplemented by quintessential O’Neill desperate punts, with the injury-ravaged and ageing pair of Louis Saha and James McFadden seemingly signed, presumably on lucrative contracts, for the sake of quantity alone given their manager’s infamous reticence for rotation; a stubbornness grimly familiar to Aston Villa fans.

Sadly for supporters of Sunderland, O’Neill is not alone in following a deeply flawed approach to the transfer market. Roy Keane’s abhorrently parochial ‘friends and family’ (only Irishmen and former Manchester United players need apply) interpretation of the market operated in a territory so wilfully insular that even the incumbent’s bizarre unwillingness to recruit from outside of the British Isles seemed a comparatively exotic, esoteric practice. Bruce widened the club’s scouting borders but arrivals such as £8m Connor Wickham did little to help the club progress, though he was handicapped by the rapacious greed of Asamoah Gyan and the departure of Darren Bent. Given his predecessors’ profligacy, O’Neill’s assignment was never easy but he has nevertheless failed to address the team’s shortcomings. Perplexingly, he has spoken lately of his squad’s lack of physicality, with a view to adding a more muscularity in the January transfer window. Quite how the conclusion that a midfield of Craig Gardner, Jack Colback and especially Lee Cattermole constitutes a lightweight, waifish offering was reached is strange given their more obvious shortcomings in other, more pertinent areas. Instead the problem resides in the fact that aside from transient flickers from Johnson and the infuriatingly erratic Stéphan Sessegnon, Sunderland’s only real creativity comes from Seb Larsson’s set-pieces. Such a dearth can occasionally be off-set by the raids of James McClean, the sort of direct, energetic winger so beloved of O’Neill but the Irishman’s form has dipped sharply following an initial surge when introduced to the first team. And therein lies the problem; telling average footballers how fantastic they are will only work for so long before ultimately, what remains is only an average footballer.

O’Neill’s motivational strengths have long been central to his myth, with the popular narrative being that his understanding of players’ psychology ensures that maximum effort is always extracted. Unfortunately, for O’Neill, at Premier League level, maximum effort is seldom enough. More is required but the Northern Irishman seems incapable of adding more. His tactical template has remained puritanically wed to dour kick-and-rush and a reliance on dead-balls whilst his inability or unwillingness to engage with more ambitious transfer targets harms his dealings. Having spoken of the need to strengthen in the upcoming window, should Sunderland stick with O’Neill then the cycle would seem dourly inevitable; over-spend on limited domestic players, perform brainless, high-tempo football with the same starting 11 wherever possible, achieve disappointing results. Given his age and the potentially terminal harm relegation could do his already ailing reputation (coupled with a misplaced ego that would surely shun overtures from lower leagues), this season could prove O’Neill’s last in management. Apologies to Sunderland fans but here’s to hoping.

DC

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