Saturday, 31 May 2014

Was Mauricio Pochettino right to join Tottenham?

On Tuesday evening Mauricio Pochettino was finally announced as the new manager of Tottenham Hotspur after weeks of topping the bookies charts as the favourite for the job. His only other serious competitor was Frank de Boer but in the end Daniel Levy and the Tottenham board have decided to take on former Southampton manager Pochettino, who has earned himself a 5 year contract at White Hart Lane.

The Argentinian will become Tottenham’s ninth manager in 13 years and he should be under no illusion of what is expected from him come the start of next season. Champions League qualification is a must.  Yet, sometimes not even that can do after former Spurs manager Harry Redknapp got the sack when he led Tottenham to 4th and their highest ever Premier League finish back in 2009.

Pochettino has lots to consider this summer
Football teams sack managers, it is something fans all over the world have come to terms with, increasingly more so in the last decade. Tottenham Hotspur and Daniel Levy are not the only ones. Since Daniel Levy took on the role of Executive Chairman in 2001 the following clubs have made managerial changes: Atletico Madrid – 12 times, Real Madrid – nine times, Barcelona – seven times, Inter Milan – 12 times and Bayern Munich – nine times. The difference between those teams and Tottenham in that period is that all the above have won the Champions League and/or a league title.

So the question is, has Pochettino made a good career choice by moving to Tottenham for next season?

‘Yes he has, well done Mauricio!’

Spending Power – Tottenham have more money than Southampton, this is obvious, after all the Saints were in League 1 only five years ago. This could well lead to Tottenham having a much better scouting system and network in place too. With money comes more influence and it would be fair to say that Tottenham certainly have the ability to attract a higher calibre of player than Southampton at the moment. It is reported that Pochettino will be given up to £50 million to spend this summer, much more money than he would have received at St Mary’s.

Trophies – Pochettino has yet to win anything since he became a manager, not an alarming fact when you consider he is only 42 and his first venture into football management with Espanyol was as recent as 2009. However, Tottenham offers him the chance to win trophies. Probably more of a chance than Southampton might in the near future. There is every chance that Tottenham could go all the way in the Europa League next season and lift the trophy. Yes! It does count!

Talented Squad – There are some big names in this Spurs side, names that seriously underperformed last season and with a little bit of help and encouragement could really set alight North London next season. Levy would most certainly have had Lamela and Soldado in the back of his mind when he hired Spanish speaking Pochettino to be the new boss. If Pochettino can mould this squad together and get them playing like a team rather than a bunch of expensively assembled individuals then the top-4 next season is realistic.

Youth Talent – Pochettino is a known admirer of giving youth players a chance in the first team. He did this at Southampton introducing the likes of James Ward-Prowse, Calum Chambers, Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher. It is something his predecessor, Tim Sherwood, also encouraged during his brief time at White Hart Lane and it was a complete breath of fresh air to see a high profile team giving young English players like Harry Kane a run in the side. It won’t be as easy for Pochettino to do at a club like Tottenham, Sherwood wasn’t scared to do it, but look where he is now.

‘No Mauricio! What were you thinking?!’

Job Security – Pochettino should know what to expect walking into this job. Nine managers in 13 years tells you what kind of a man Levy is and he will demand results straight away. It seems to be quite a drop once you are ditched my Tottenham, Pochettino will hope that he does not follow the career paths of most of his predecessors. Indeed, Glenn Hoddle has hardly taken a shot at management since leaving Spurs, Jacques Santini only had one more job after Tottenham, Juande Ramos quite miraculously went on to Real Madrid but after a year found himself in Russia whilst Villas-Boas has gone from being the hottest property on the market to also ending up banished to Russia.
Is Baldini the man to blame for Spurs' troubles last season?

Franco Baldini – Baldini broke Tottenham’s transfer record three times last summer on Paulinho, Soldado and Lamela. The expensively assembled squad failed to impress under Villas-Boas and the Portuguese was given the boot. Baldini on the other hand is still at White Hart Lane. How happy Pochettino will be with a man working above him on transfers will remain to be seen. Arsene Wenger said last season “If a director of football buys the players, when they don’t work you are guilty for not using them well. When they work, he has bought well. I’m not against having people to help me buy and sell but I think the final decision has to always be with the manager.” The Arsenal manager is right and Pochettino’s job will hang on how well he and Baldini work together this summer and beyond.

Patience/Time - Champions League qualification is a must come the end of next season, especially if Levy is willing to give Pochettino £50 million to spend this summer. Obviously this would not have been the case if the Argentinian had stayed on the South Coast for another season. Another top half finish would have gone down fine with Saints fans come next May but the former Argentinian defender is obviously happy to feel a little bit of pressure.

Youth – I know I have already highlighted the Spurs academy as a bonus but arguably Southampton have the best youth structure in English football. Lest we forget, Spurs were able to spend above £100 million last summer as a result of a player from the Southampton academy. What’s more is that at Southampton Pochettino had free reign to play youth players, even better, he was encouraged to do so. It doesn’t look like the same will happen in his new role.

The Press – I jest here but Tottenham will require Pochettino to take all press conferences in English now he is their new manager. Could this be significant? Gone are the jokes, the possible mind games and the trusty translator. Pochettino will be laid bare for all to see come next season and it may affect his battle off the pitch as well as on it. Adios. 

Monday, 26 May 2014

Aaron Cresswell: The perfect replacement for Luke Shaw?

Luke Shaw’s stock has rocketed to astronomical levels after his second season in the Premier League with Southampton. The young English left back, recently called up to the England squad for the World Cup, has been turning heads all season long with a string of impressive displays. This has naturally led to the increasing likelihood that Southampton may well lose Shaw this summer as the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea loom.

Shaw looks set to leave St Mary's this summer

However, there is reason to suggest that Saints fans should not be too disheartened by the possible departure of their prized left back, since there is one player who could be the perfect replacement: Aaron Cresswell.

Cresswell has been plying his trade at Ipswich Town for the past three seasons and has racked up an impressive 132 league appearances during that time. Notably, last year he did not miss one league game for the Suffolk-based club.

Nor is Cresswell just a reliable left back who is satisfied with doing a solid job in the Ipswich defence. In fact, he has been their most important attacking source this season putting together some fantastic performances with decent numbers to show for it. The Liverpudlian has notched up 13 assists this year, the most out of any Town player and also the third most in the Championship. He has also created a whopping total of 68 chances, an incredible achievement for a defender. Not since Leighton Baines’ time at Wigan has a full back been so successful in the highest tier of the football league.

Using the Squawka ‘Comparison Matrix’ it is possible to produce some interesting comparisons between Luke Shaw and Cresswell.

Cresswell was named in the PFA Championship team of the year for 2013/14 and he also managed to come ninth in a list of the top ten Championship footballers for the season. A list that is voted for by the managers in the league. He was only one of two defenders to make it onto the list which is notoriously dominated by attackers.

His performances have not gone unnoticed either as numerous scouts have made the trip to Portman Road to check out the former Tranmere Rovers man in action. Southampton, Newcastle, West Brom, West Ham and Leicester have been keeping tabs on him to name but a few. Ipswich are not likely to stand in the defender’s way either if he makes it clear he wants to leave this summer even though he is contracted till 2017.

Mick McCarthy the Town manager said “Cressy might go because there will be people interested in him,” he also added that “I’m not one of those that’s going to say ‘He’s not going anywhere’ because that’s bullshit because he deserves to play there (the Premier League), and if it’s the right offer we’ll have to talk to him about it.”

Cresswell has been impressive for Ipswich

The slight glitch as far as Ipswich are concerned is that Cresswell’s former team, Tranmere, are entitled to make 20% of any profit that Town make from the £420,000 that they bought him for. Therefore, it would not be surprising to see Town act in a bullish manner when cutting a deal with future prospectors and a price tag between £4-5million seems to be quite likely. However, if you consider that Shaw may be sold for something in the region of £25 million then it could well be a good deal.

Ipswich have an excellent history in nurturing young talent before moving them on to the higher echelons of English football. Proven by Connor Wickham’s recent burst of form with Sunderland, and there is no doubt that Aaron Cresswell could replicate similar performances in the Premier League in years to come. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Kasper Schmeichel set to agree new contract with Leicester

Danish international goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel will reportedly put pen to paper in the coming days on a new deal with Leicester City. BBC Sport announced on Monday that Schmeichel, who arrived at Leicester in 2011, was keen to sign a new deal and that he was excited about the upcoming season in the Premier League.

This contract extension will no doubt quell any more lingering rumours about a possible move by Arsenal for the 27 year old. The Gunners have been linked with Schmeichel for the last month since it was apparent that there Polish goalkeeper, Lukasz Fabianski, would not be signing a new deal at the club and that he would be let go this summer. Wenger and co obviously felt that Schmeichel, who was due to be out of contract this summer, would be an ideal back up to current No.1 keeper Wojciech Szczesny and would provide a bit of competition for the Polish international.

Leicester will be thrilled that Schmeichel has said that he wants to stay at the King Power stadium and no doubt this will provide a significant boost for the rest of the squad as they are about to embark upon their first season back in the top flight of English football since 2004.

Schmeichel has been a constant fixture in the side since his arrival in 2011 and played every single Championship game for the Foxes this season conceding 43 goals and keeping 18 clean sheets in the process. Including four consecutive shut outs in the last four games of the season.

The former Manchester City, Leeds United and Notts County keeper is believed to have agreed terms on a four year deal with the club that could earn him up to £40,000 a week. This seems somewhat unlikely though as Leicester have strived to implement a system where a salary cap of £30,000 a week in place. The deal, if true, would make the Danish keeper the highest paid player in the history of the football club.

The budgeting and salary cap may have to be thrown out the window though as the Thai owner of the club, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, has declared he wants to see the team finish in the top five within the next three years. Such lofty ambitions will certainly come at a cost and we will know doubt see Leicester players on wages of more than that salary cap over the next year or so.

Schmeichel has been named in the PFA Championship team of the year for the last two seasons and he will no doubt want to take this form into next season as the team will aim to keep the Foxes in the Premier League come next May. 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Clarence Seedorf - Why Milan should choose to stick with the Dutchman for next season

The final round of Serie A matches take place this weekend, drawing to a close another dramatic season on the peninsula. Milan are perhaps under more scrutiny than most this Sunday, many believe a decision on the future of current manager Clarence Seedorf is just around the corner. In short will they stick, and keep the Dutchman for next season or indeed twist, and go in search of a coach most likely with a more decorated history in football management.

Taarabt has been a success since his arrival in Lombardy
Seedorf has done no harm to his chances of staying on in his role at the San Siro. In his 18 league matches in charge since taking over, the 38-year-old has won ten of them, returning 32 points at a win rate of 55%. That not only out does his predecessor, Massimiliano Allegri, who boasted a figure of 51% but it also stands
not too far off Ancelotti’s figure of 56.5%, Milan’s most successful manager of the 21st century.

If Seedorf, who made 300 appearances for the Rossoneri, wins his final game of the season this Sunday against lowly Sassuolo and Torino and Parma, who sit 6th and 7th respectively, slip up in their matches, then he will have guided Milan to a place in Europe for next season. Not bad considering he took over the club when they were sat in 11th position in the table and confidence was at an all-time low. 

It would be most harsh of club owner and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi if he were to get rid of Seedorf after Sunday’s match, regardless of the result. The Dutch manager has only had a few months and half a transfer window to impress his vision and ideas upon the squad. A team that is arguably the worst assembled side in Milan’s recent history.

Seedorf deserves an entire summer to go out and purchase his own targets, players that he think will add quality to this diminishing side and can help take the club back to the upper echelons of Italian football. The only player Seedorf was able to get in January in the time he was given was Adel Taarabt, who he signed on loan from QPR for the rest of the season. Taarabt has arguably turned out to be Milan’s signing of the season. In the 11 starts he has made for the club since he has arrived he has scored four goals and recorded an average rating of 7.44 by WhoScored, the best rating out of any player in the Milan side. This is certainly reason to give Seedorf a proper transfer budget for the summer and then see what he can achieve with it. 

What is so remarkable is that Seedorf is only the second black manager to take charge of a Serie A side, the first was Jarbas Faustinho who managed Napoli from 1994-95. At a time where racism is still very present in football around the world this appointment is exactly what Serie A needs right now. Only last week a banana was thrown at Kevin Constant the Milan footballer in their game against Atalanta, not to mention the incident surrounding Barcelona’s Dani Alves. Milan are a very high profile club and it is fantastic to see that they made the decision to take on Seedorf in January, sticking with him in the long term can only serve to benefit Serie A and the racism that continues to surround this league.

Rumours have been rife this week that Milan are keen on former manager and club legend Carlo Ancelotti, as well as fellow Italian and unemployed Luciano Spalletti, as successors to Seedorf for next season. Berlusconi has given mixed reactions of late with his views of the situation. He refused to comment upon the position a few days ago only to tell Radio 24 today that “Signing Seedorf in January was not a mistake”. Hopefully this is not the dreaded backing every manager in football wishes they don’t hear. It usually results with them losing their job a week later.

Not only is Seedorf a globally recognised footballer but he is a clever man and no doubt tactician, notably the Dutchman is fluent in five languages. Milan are not a club with a history of short term sackings, they have only had four managers since 2001. Indeed Ancelotti was given eight years at the San Siro, something quite unheard of in Serie A where managers come and go on a regular basis.

Seedorf should be the man Milan stick with for now. He is contracted till June 2016 and there is much promise from what we have seen in the second half of this season that would suggest the next campaign can be a more successful one.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Liverpool Defence

Liverpool have been absolutely outstanding this season, of that there can be no doubt. All one has to do is compare this season’s league table to that of last season and the facts speak for themselves. With only one game left of the season, kicking off at three this afternoon, Liverpool have managed nine more victories than the previous year. They have scored 28 more goals, and counting, they boast 20 more points than they achieved last campaign and not to mention the fact that they have risen from seventh in the table to a minimum finish of second. It all makes for very impressive reading and hats off to Rodgers for being the catalyst behind this successful season.

But there is still something amiss, something that could have handed Liverpool the title this season with considerable ease if it had been at any sort of acceptable standard. The defence.  Whilst the side this season may have out played many other Premier League teams they have still managed to leak goals, in fact nine more than when they finished seventh last season! How is that even possible I hear you ask? Well I think it needs closer attention and hopefully we can come to the bottom of what the issues have been with Liverpool’s back four this season.

The Problems:

Three or Four at the Back?

If there should be any criticism directed at Brendan Rodgers for his management this season then it should probably be as a result of his indecisiveness and decision making surrounding his defence. Liverpool started with four at the back, they then changed to three for a short period of time, before finally giving up on three and changing back to four. In September, Rodgers even decided to field four centre backs against Southampton with Sakho on the left and Toure on the right. Needless to say they lost the game 1-0. Next season Rodgers should decide on his best defenders and he should look to consistently play those players as much as possible. A fixed defence is a solid defence, whether it consists of three, four or five.

Which Formation?

Since Rodgers doesn’t know what number is best to play at the back, he also doesn’t know what formation is the best one to play with. I don’t have the exact numbers but I would be surprised if there has been another team in the Premier League this season who have changed their formation more times than Liverpool. On the first day of the season against Stoke, Liverpool came out in a 4-2-3-1 which has then gone on to a 3-5-2, 3-4-1-2, 3-5-2 again, 4-3-3, 4-4-2 back to 4-2-3-1 and then finally settling on a 4-3-3 for the last few months of the season. The changes are just about understandable when we consider that Liverpool started without Suarez for the first few games of the season before losing Sturridge to injury for some time half way through the campaign. However, the constant changes has evidently had an effect on the defence which has consequently had to chop and change sometimes on a weekly basis during 2013-14. If Liverpool want to have similar sort of successes next year then a good consistent formation needs to be decided upon.

The Fullbacks

After this season Liverpool have only one recognised left back in their squad, Jose Enrique, (Aly Cissokho will almost certainly be returning to Valencia come June). The Spaniard has only started six games this season so clearly he is not in Rodgers’ plans. It has meant that when Liverpool have played four at the back this season they have had use right footed players like Flanagan and Johnson who we know are more natural on the right hand side of the pitch. Even centre backs Agger and Sakho have had to fill in on the left at some point this year. Liverpool need to secure a first choice left back in the transfer market this summer and also decide which right sided defenders they want to keep in their squad. They are slightly spoiled for choice in that respect with Johnson, Flanagan, Kelly and Wisdom all natural right backs. There is no doubt that Rodgers has realised by now that it makes no sense to have one left back in a squad and four for the right. Something has to be done over the coming months.

Fixed Back Four

Rodgers has not made his mind up who his best four defenders are in the squad. Especially in relation to the centre back position. Martin Skrtel has been a key fixture in Liverpool’s defence this season with 35 starts but apart from the Slovakian there has been little consistency. Sakho has 17 starts whilst Agger and Toure have 15 apiece and this constant chopping and changing of the centre backs would certainly have had no positive effect on Skrtel’s performances who hasn’t been able to create any solid partnership at the back. Liverpool paid £15 million for Sakho last summer and yet it seems that Rodgers has not had the faith to consistently play the Frenchman in defence. In fact Rodgers has said this season that he wasn’t expecting Sakho to play first team football this season but that he would be happy if he were to challenge for a place. This is utterly baffling for me when you consider that Sakho is now 24, he has already had at least three seasons at PSG as a first choice centre back and what is more, he now starts for the French national team. As a manager if you pay £15 million on a proven player, Sakho is proven, you must be committed to play him.

What To Do:

One of Kelly or Wisdom will probably have to leave in the summer. Kelly did very well when he played for the first team a couple of years ago but has struggled since recovering from his injury. Wisdom has been on loan at Derby this season and could well go on a permanent move to the Rams if they get promoted via the play-offs.

Coates – not good enough, has to go.

Daniel Agger – Rodgers doesn’t seem to have faith in him and Agger won’t enjoy another season around the substitutes’ bench. I can see him moving on this summer.

Kolo Toure will be kept as he can provide good cover for a small squad that will have to cope with the demands of Champions League football next season.

Jose Enrique has got to be sold, very very poor left back.  

If Liverpool do anything this summer then it has to be going into the market and buying a first class left back and centre back. I would love to see them go in for Steven Caulker or Curtis Davies who have both had fantastic seasons in my opinion. Especially Caulker who surely will leave Cardiff now that they have been relegated.

An exciting change, if implemented properly, would be to see Liverpool have a proper go at the 3-5-2. It is such a rare formation to see in the Premier League but you only have to look at the kind of success that Juventus have had in Serie A with it and you wonder whether it could work with Liverpool.

Glen Johnson has shown that he has definite gaps in his defensive abilities and would jump at the chance to play in a more attacking wing back role. Rodgers can’t make his mind up about which centre backs to play so by using three that conundrum is thrown right out of the window. Needless to say, three centre backs could also be the answer to Liverpool’s poor defensive record.

Whatever Liverpool decide to do, I will eagerly be anticipating Liverpool’s activity in the transfer market this summer.