Scouting Network: Ravel Morrison

Scouting Network identifies young players under the age of 21 who have exceptional talent and could be one of the leading players of the future. This month GoaldenTimes profiles Ravel Morrison

Date of Birth: February 02, 1993

Place of Birth: Wythenshawe,

Manchester, England

Club: West Ham United

Height: 175 cm

Weight: 71 kg

Position: Midfield

Nationality: England

Market Value: £650,000

Ravel Morrison is a young lad, highly rated by people who have watched him closely during his limited appearances for Manchester United. Although he is yet to set the stage on fire, Ravel Morrison has surely set the newspapers ablaze – not so much the back page, but certainly ‘Page 3’. Speed, vision, flair, control, strong physicality, goal scoring knack – he has ’em all and some more – not to mention his constant off-the-field issues. He is the latest ’bad boy’ of English football – anybody remembers Gazza? Morrison may be a notch above his predecessors having already received a 12-month referral order for witness intimidation and serving a police caution for assaulting his mother. Mind you, he is but a teenager!

Amidst all this, he had signed as a first-year scholar with his club in 2009 and turned professional the next year, on his 17th birthday. Sir Alex Ferguson seemed to have a gem at his disposal as Morrison put in a string of strong performances across age groups for England U16, U17 and U18s. He is a complete midfielder who has been at his best in the wide left position. He made his first senior appearance later that year in the League Cup win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, coming on as a substitute. Morrison though made his mark in the FA Youth Cup 2010-11. After lighting up the field in the previous rounds and scoring a few, Morrison scored the opener against Chelsea en route to a 4-0 semi-final thumping. He scored a brace – first one with a delightful placement after couple of delightful touches , and the second one after running through the defence – in the finals against Sheffield United which Manchester United won 6-3 on aggregate. Two days later, he again made the headlines – for throwing his girlfriend’s cell phone out of a window during an argument and subsequently being fined £600 for the same. He was soon touted as one of the best young talents coming up the ranks in Manchester United. But off-the-field incidents got better of him and on the final day of the 2011-12 winter transfer window, Sir Alex confirmed that it would be better for him to try his luck away from the limelight at Upton Park. So what if he can do this, this and this?

And it is no surprise that he has not learnt his lessons. He has recently been fined £7,000 by FA (Football Association) for posting a homophobic threat on Twitter. Surely, his social networking skills are not something to boast of. But it seems better than his knowledge of using a search engine: “Who knows west hams official website?” # @RavelMorrison49. He seems destined to be a wasted talent. But one can only hope that Big Sam (Sam Allardyce) would be able to tame this spoilt brat and turn him into a glittering diamond. And going by Morrison’s footballing skills alone, there is no reason why he should not!

‘Glory’ – We, the Hunters

‘I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. Football. Bloody hell.’

~ Sir Alex Ferguson

Most of us in India would remember 1999 for an event far from being closely associated to the beautiful game we call football – the Cricket World Cup: Sachin Tendulkar’s injury which could have prevented him from playing the Cup or Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid’s record partnership at Taunton. I was no different. While counting down to the days, I read every article that came on the sports pages of newspapers with immense interest, making fantastical permutations and combinations as the likes of a nine-year-old would be akin to carrying out.

In a country where zealous fan(atic)s worship cricket as a religion, it is hard to stay away from its lure. However, that May 27, 1999 newspaper carried another snippet that almost went unnoticed, except to this nine-year-old’s keen eye. A team called Manchester United had won the Champions League, from being one goal down and without their first-choice midfielders. Although my memory serves as an impediment here, I can very well recall a grainy black and white picture of the players and an aged fellow, who looked like my grandpa, lifting a Cup. And to this nine-year old underdog, that is me, it was a tale of gut and gumption; this come-from-behind story of a team called Manchester United held my admiration. I did not know of them earlier, all my knowledge was limited only to FIFA World Cup matches and Golden Boot winners – Davor Šuker being the latest of them. All things considered, it was shallow and shallow still on the day of May 27, 1999. But, a team called Manchester United etched itself in my memory, firmly. That was the beginning of my becoming a Red Devil, possibly a glory-hunter.

A glory-hunter is a euphemism for foreign supporters of a particular football club who are spread world over. It is particularly acute amongst fans of Manchester United. These foreign fans have been the target of jibes by rival supporters and locals alike. What exactly defines a glory-hunter? For one, a glory-hunter is not a local fan, a person from the same place of origin as the club, a “big club”. Even a Cockney-speaking Londoner supporting Liverpool is at risk of being called one. Accusations range from having no connections with the club and choosing it only because the club will safely be amongst the best for years to overusing the club mottos (‘Glory Glory Man United’ or GGMU in the case of Manchester United). They are also criticised for their lack of knowledge regarding the club’s history, culture or chants. They are always the ones susceptible to switching allegiances when their club is going through a torrid time, might even switch back and forth. A glory-hunter’s attack on a rival club or a player is more vitriolic (using names such as Chelsh*t for Chelsea etc.) than a local. These and so many more points make the workings of a glory-hunter.

Ever since the English Premier League hit the Indian television screens, there has been a surge in its viewership. Needless to say, Indian fans make a sizeable chunk of the global fan support of Premier League clubs. True, there is the domestic I-League with matches happening all year round but what makes an Indian football viewer, irrespective of the glory-hunter status, watch EPL, and openly support a foreign club having no prior attachment to it?

A majority of the football fans in India only know of ‘The Big Four’ of England — Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. Only recently Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and the likes of those who are constantly pushing for a place in the ‘Big Four’ bracket are winning some favour, too.

Moving over to southern Europe, there exist only Barcelona, Real Madrid, A.C. Milan and Inter Milan.  Names like Juventus, A.S. Roma, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Valencia have been only heard of. Juventus for Alessandro del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon, Roma for Francesco Totti, Atletico Madrid as the club who previously had Fernando Torres and Sergio Aguero before they were stars, Bayern Munich for the (Arjen) Robben-(Franck) Ribéry duo, Bayer Leverkusen for Michael Ballack and Valencia having been home to two Davids –  Villa and Silva.

The knowledge is shallow and I won’t mince any words about it. Football has suddenly transformed from a sport in India to also a form of ‘peacocking’. The more you flaunt what you know, that is rattle off names, tactics, formations and player names, the ‘cooler’ you are. Yes, I have been a part of it too. But, if you have your national team languishing at the lower rungs of the world rankings and a domestic league which can be called mediocre on its best day, people will always look for options.

Inspiring moments in this millennium have been sporadic. The only ones worth mentioning are perhaps East Bengal’s ASEAN Club Championship win way back in 2003, Baichung Bhutia’s stint at Bury F.C. in England and Sunil Chhetri’s at Kansas City Wizards of the MLS in the USA; and to say that the country was arguably the best team in Asia from 1950 to 1962 is a matter of shame.  There is no glamour in it, neither for players nor for the fans: a once thriving club culture is all but dead. This is why Jose Ramirez Baretto is not as hated in Kolkata as Carlos Tevez is in Manchester, and why Steven Dias’s #8 jersey has no takers while Steven Gerrard’s #8 sells like hot cakes. And when you have competitive football matches of the highest order, players of world repute being beamed in your television screens every weekend, why would one want to pay and go watch a local football match in a decrepit run-down stadium?

Another accusation that comes the glory-hunter way is that they don’t attend matches ever. I stand guilty as charged, myself. Yes, United takes pride in its working class roots, from its inception as Newton Heath of yore to the Manchester United it is now. But, a two-way ticket to Manchester and back will knock the stuffing out of any middle class Indian home. Add to that, a currency that depreciates considerably in comparison to the Pound-Sterling. Thus, it is not feasible for a fervent United fan to watch a match and come back without burning a hole in his or her pocket. If United rules your heart then no matter where you belong, irrespective of the colour of your skin, you will take pride in your team even from your bedroom. My ooh’s and aah’s have constantly woken my neighbours on Champions League nights as it is almost morning by the time the telecast ends in India.

But fans’ glory-hunting charges notwithstanding, here’s another side of the story. Why did Andriy Shevchenko leave A.C. Milan for Chelsea in 2006 when he was easily the first choice striker and also the second highest goal-getter for the club? Why did he, instead, choose to be a part of Roman Abramovich’s lavishly funded Jose Mourinho squad? Whiffs of glory-hunting exist in players as well, I say, sticking my neck out. There are more examples like Dimitar Berbatov who moved from Tottenham Hotspur to Manchester United for a record-breaking fee a few years ago after being the club’s top scorer. Also, add David Silva, Yaya Touré and the Manchester City bunch. Everyone, inherently, wants a share of fame and glory. Add to that, whopping salary packages and you have an offer you can barely refuse. No one really remembers John Terry’s missed penalty in the Champions League final at Moscow in 2008 except in statistics. Players are human beings as well. The lure of top-flight football and expectant silverware is too much for them to resist. Even within that, a Serie A or the Bundesliga club pales out in comparison to their Premier League or La Liga counterparts, given the more attractive pay-packets and squads that allure them.

To know United, one must first know of Newton Heath – of February 6, 1958 and The Busby Babes, of Bryan Robson, George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the Eric Cantona period. If you love a club, you fiercely support it no matter what and this is what the glory-hunters lack along with the basic knowledge of the club they “support” – its workings and history. Oh, and please, let’s not get into the clichéd million-dollar question perennially doing the rounds on social networking sites, as to who is better, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. I have followed United faithfully ever since that fateful day, from Roy Keane to Ruud van Nistelrooy, the departure of David Beckham to the coming of Ronaldo, from Owen Hargreaves and his injury woes to Sir Alex bringing in the new guard; the da Silva brothers (Fábio and Rafael), Phil Jones, Javier Hernandez, David de Gea and others. I sat perplexed, like every other Red Devil in the stadium when Sir Alex subbed Park Ji-Sung for Patrice Evra in the thrilling draw against Everton last year; a game we should have won. United makes my weekends and dictates my moods – it’s my love. So, I am most welcome to take that glory-hunter tag with a pinch of salt.

I fervently dream of going to Old Trafford and following the team around on their travels for an entire season. Someday, I shall. Like Arthur Miller once so rightly said, “A lot of good things have come out of dreaming.

The Next RED KNIGHT

 
Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson took over the reins as the manager of Manchester United Football Club on November 6, 1986 after the board sacked Ron Atkinson when the team was in the relegation zone. It has been close to 25 years since United had anybody else other then Sir Alex at the helm. A generation of United fans doesn’t know how it feels not to have Sir Alex blasting the living daylights out of referees from the touchline. Ferguson inherited a dispirited team of underachievers who had consistently, to their supporters’ discontent, failed to break Liverpool’s domination.

For the first few years, United didn’t win a trophy under him till 1990, when they tasted success with the FA Cup win. It is said that his job was under serious threat before the third round tie against Nottingham Forrest. Since then, there has been a never-ending supply of glories and trophies with 12 League titles, five FA Cups, two UEFA Champions League, one Club World Cup, one European Cup Winners Cup, one Inter-Continental Cup, one UEFA Super Cup and nine charity shields – in total 32 trophies.

Season after season, United have landed trophies under the great Scotsman; but after him, who? Many believe last season’s league triumph and Champions League final appearance was only possible because Sir Alex was at the helm, as the squad was poor compared to other title winning United squads. The managerial cacophony that took place after Sir Matt Busby stepped down, is etched in the memory of United fans. So, as Sir Alex completes 25 years in charge of United, the next managerial change in United will be crucial for the future of the club and will be one of the toughest decisions that the CEO of Manchester United Football Club would have to take.

It’s said that no one person is bigger than the club. When it comes to players, it holds true. But what if someone’s philosophy and direction defines the club in the modern age? Nothing of importance that happens at Manchester United goes without Ferguson’s knowledge or approval. He is as close to impossible to replace, as any manager could be. Good luck following this act.

Like everybody else, I have a speculative list of three people who I believe has the potential and credibility to take over from Sir Alex, as the manager of United. The following three managers are relatively younger, but experienced enough and successful in their own rights. In my view, the next United manager will be young, as United would certainly opt for a long term successor instead of a stop-gap arrangement, to fill the big boots of Sir Alec.

Jose Mourinho:


 

José Mário dos Santos Félix Mourinho or simply Jose Mourinho is a name that divides football fans and pundits alike. If anybody has the personality and charisma to take over from Sir Alex, then this is the man. He has worked as an assistant manager and interpreter with legendary English manager, Sir Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon, FC Porto and then at FC Barcelona.  His managerial career started with Benfica, then he moved to Porto, where he won the Champions League, and then his first big move came when he took over at Chelsea from Claudio Ranieri, in 2004. Armed with Roman Abrahamovic’s financial strength, Mourinho built a Chelsea side which won its first league title in 50 years in the 2004/05 season, thus breaking the Manchester United and Arsenal hegemony at the top of English football. He also won the treble with Inter Milan and is currently manages Real Madrid.

Strengths:

He is an ‘attention-to-details’ manager. A Jose Mourinho side cannot be accused of being under-prepared. Invariably all the Mourinho teams are well-drilled with a fantastic backline. He builds his team from the defence and firmly believes in the theory that offence wins you games but defence wins you championships. He is regarded as one of the most tactically sound managers in Europe and studies the opposition team thoroughly. He is known for building personal relationships with his players and so he automatically owns the dressing room and commands fierce loyalty from his players.

Weaknesses:

Jose Mourinho is widely known for playing winning but pragmatic football which directly goes against the traditions of Manchester United. United is known for playing entertaining and free-flowing football, and the Old Trafford crowd demands not only winning football but easy-to-eye football.

Mourinho is known for playing the pantomime villain, all too well. In some cases it might take the pressure off the players, but on the downside, instead of the players, the manager may enjoy the media spotlight a bit more than what is expected in Old Trafford.

Verdict:

Jose Mourinho is the top contender from taking over from Sir Alex. He has the managerial acumen and the required charisma and personality to fill the big boots of Sir Alex. He shares a fantastic rapport with the great man, and as David Gill has stated that Sir Alex will have a huge role to play on his succesor’s choice, so Mourinho is one of the, if not the front runner for the post. Will he be ready to commit his long term future to Manchester United, build another dynasty and play the kind of football the Old Trafford demands every time the successors of the ‘Busby Babes’ take the field? 

Josep Guardiola:


 

Pep Guardiola enjoyed a stellar playing career with FC Barcelona with 263 appearances and won numerous trophies, including the European Cup in 1991-92 season. He finally left Barcelona in 2001.

His rise to become one of the most coveted managerial talents is nothing short of astounding. He was appointed as the coach of FC Barcelona B team at the start of the 2007-08 season. Under his guidance, the team subsequently won Tercera Division and qualified for the 2008 Segunda Division Playoffs, which the team won and was promoted. He replaced Frank Riijkard as the manager of Barca at the end of the 2007-08 season.

Before the start of the 2008-09 season, he made some sweeping changes to the Barca side by off-loading starts like Ronaldinho and Deco and brought in fresh players like Dani Alves, Seydou Keita and Gerard Pique. In his first season with the Catalan giants, the young manager won an unprecedented six trophies, an astonishing achievement for such a young manager. He is also the youngest manager to win the UEFA Champions League and he won it TWICE, in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. He has already won three back-to-back La Liga titles. Now that’s an outstanding record for a young manager.

Strengths:

Under Guardiola, Barcelona has developed and mastered a mesmerising passing game that sometimes leaves their opponents chasing shadows in the midfield. His players are so adept in keeping the ball to their feet that the opponents are just left with no choice but to withstand all the pressure and hope to hit them back with a quick counter-attack. Another feature of Guardiola’s Barca team is the pressing game that they play, which rarely allows the opponents to settle down with the ball. The football that Barca plays is beautiful to see but extremely hard to execute and physically demanding on the players, so Pep’s players are extremely fit and he rarely rotates his team, barring injuries. Although he spent a lot of cash bringing new players to the club, he is ready to give youngsters in the club a shot at the first team, which is quite similar to Sir Alex’s and United’s philosophy of providing the youth a chance.

Weaknesses:

Josep Guardiola is regarded as one of the most, if not the most coveted young manager in the game but all his successes have been achieved in the familiar surroundings of the Catalan giants. Guardiola has played for Barcelona for a long period of time and then returned as their manager. He knows the club inside out and knows the brand of football that is needed for the La Liga. There arise questions as to how he can adjust his style of play in a different club, in a different league. Only time can answer that.

Verdict:

Josep Guardiola will be a kind of coup for Manchester United if they can acquire him. He is young, has promoted the brand of attacking football that the Old Trafford crowd bays for and will be willing to build one more dynasty. But can he adjust to a different club in a different league?

David Moyes:


 

 Had I been the CEO of Manchester United, I would not think twice before offering David Moyes to fill up the managerial vacancy, with Sir Alex not around, but unfortunately I AM NOT! David Moyes is one of the finest British managers in the game right now. He is young, tactically alert and a fantastic man manager.

His managerial career started at Preston North End in 1998, taking over from Gary Peters as the club struggled in the Division Two. Preston avoided relegation and qualified for the Division two playoffs, which they lost. The following season, they won the Division Two title and was promoted to Division One and qualified for the playoffs with largely the same squad that won the Division Two title.

Moyes left for Everton to take over from Walter Smith in 2002. If we take Everton’s budget into account then Moyes has achieved miracles with the club, and unearthed and harnessed talents like Wayne Rooney, Leighton Baines, Jack Rodwell, Seamus Coleman and the latest one, Ross Barkley. Everton achieved Champions League qualification in the 2004-05 season, a remarkable achievement for a club with a small budget.

Strengths:

I haven’t seen much of Preston North End but whatever I have seen of Everton in the last 10 years, I can safely say, that a David Moyes team won’t leave anything behind in the field, whatever the result might be. A trip to Goodison Park is always a tough fixture in the League calendar – an Everton team will hurry and hassle the opponent into making mistakes while displaying remarkable team ethic and commitment. They work their socks off on the field. David Moyes is known for making some smart buys and loan moves, as Everton’s budget is very low. This season Everton’s net spend was NEGATIVE, the only top-flight club with a negative net spend. Players like Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta (who left for Arsenal this season), Royston Drenthe and Steven Pienaar were brought to top flight English football by David Moyes. Tactically smart and a fantastic man manager, David Moyes is a special managerial talent.

Weaknesses:

David Moyes has harnessed his managerial skills at Preston North End and Everton. With no offence to Everton, can Moyes handle the pressure and expectations that come with being the manager of a big club like Manchester United? Over and above, he doesn’t have much experience of playing or managing in Europe, which is tactically a totally different ball game.

Verdict:

If there is one British manager that deserves his chance of managing a top club like Manchester United, then David Moyes is the man. United’s ethos lies in the fact that they try to build the foundation of a team through young players and they put a lot of emphasis on their youth academy. Moyes is known for identifying young players and nurturing them. Wayne Rooney is one of the best examples of a prodigal young player, nurtured by Moyes. He will carry forward the tradition, from Sir Alex, of building a team on young up-starts. He will be keen to build his own legacy at Manchester United and if he achieves success, then United need not worry about another managerial vacancy for a long time. I have discussed the strength of a typical David Moyes team. As opposed to Pep and Mourinho, Moyes doesn’t have the requisite funds but his strength lies in the way he prepares the team, and his penchant for an astute buy.

Football Management is Easy…NOT!

The concept of Football Management doesn’t sound that tough especially for those who have mastered various football management games. Find good players, pick and buy ‘em, and win games. In theory, it is the very essence of simplicity. So why then, is there such a difference between the Alex Fergusons and the Gian Piero Gasperinis of this world? What separates the successful from the sacked? What does a football manager need in order to become a success and likewise, what might lead to a manager’s failure?

By looking at some high profile managers, both past and present, we can get an understanding of both. From those that I have actually looked at closely, in recent times, we have managers like Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, while from times past, the name of Brian Clough springs to mind. What are the key factors that make these men the great managers they are? There possibly are many factors that play their roles, but let me highlight two I find the most striking.

Three of a kind

The support of the Chairman/Owner/Board

It is not the most difficult thing to comprehend that only if the manager is supported from the top can he hope to succeed. The owners have to believe in the direction the manager takes the club on the field. They need to provide support when match results fail to meet expectations, try as much and avoid public criticism of him, arrange for availability of proper transfer funds and above all, steer clear of picking the team. A prime example of this kind of support is the early career of Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. In December 1989, after a run of bad results and some heavy defeats, most of the English media and the Man Utd fans were calling for Ferguson to be sacked. The Board of Directors instead offered their full support. How different would the history of English and European football have been in the last 20 years if the Directors of Man Utd had not done so? Would Man Utd be, as they are now, one of the world’s biggest clubs in the world and have a record of 19 English League titles? I can say with almost complete certainty that they would not.

In marked contrast to Ferguson at Man Utd, there is the situation that Gian Piero Gasperini found himself in, at Inter. It was no secret that he was not Massimo Moratti’s first choice. Indeed, it would appear that he was as low as fifth on Inter’s wish list for a new coach when he was appointed in June 2011. This was public knowledge so it was hardly likely to make him feel secure at the beginning of his tenure. Inter’s results did not go Gasperini’s way to say the least. The situation was not helped either, by Moratti publicly calling on the manager to change his tactics following a defeat. Gasperini had also clearly planned on not having Wesley Sneijder in his squad, as the Dutchman was Old Trafford bound for most of the summer. Now Gasperini is one of those managers who prefer a three-man defense. He has always played 3-4-3 and when he came to Inter, it was not expected he would change that. Gasperini’s controversial formation had no real place for a player like Sneijder, yet when the proposed transfer fell through, the pressure came on Gasperini to start the midfielder in his team. Once again, this pressure came from the owner of the Club undermining the manager.

This was a ridiculous situation and nobody was particularly surprised when Gasperini was sacked in September 2011 after failing to win any of the 5 games in charge. Certainly it’s a poor record but can any manager be judged over 5 games? I think not. It would seem that Gasperini’s position was always precarious but it was Moratti’s actions that contributed directly to the coach’s failure. The final word on this situation should perhaps be left to the late Brian Clough and might have given Moratti pause for thought: “If a chairman sacks the manager he initially appointed, he should go as well.”  Indeed.

Man-Management Skills

Once more this may seem obvious, but I think it’s more than just being able to handle difficult players or rotate your team. The great managers inspire their players to be loyal to them and to obey them without question. This can be done in different ways. I would say that Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough did this through highly autocratic styles of management. Their teams were not democracies, rather they were dictatorships. In contrast, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola appear to operate a much more egalitarian style of management. Both methods can be made to work very successfully but a good manager must have his player’s total commitment, regardless of how he gets it.

I do not think Ferguson is, or has ever been, “friends” with any of his players. He does not negotiate with them or placate them – he is ruthless and his word is law at Old Trafford. He will without hesitation get rid of great players like Roy Keane and Jaap Stam as soon as they step out of line. This lets every other player know that they are expendable and that if you want to play for Man Utd, you do as Ferguson orders. I believe this is why United are famed for their last minute goals and willpower to win – the players are literally afraid to face Ferguson after a defeat or a poor performance. Ask David Beckham, you never know when a flying boot might hit you….

Brian Clough was also a manager who achieved huge success by ruling his players with an iron fist. In a famous quote, he once responded to a question about what happened if one of his players disagreed with a decision he had made: “We talk about it for twenty minutes and then we decide I was right.” Clearly, Clough tolerated no opposition from his players. He required their unconditional loyalty and obedience and in return guaranteed them trophies. As his success showed, it was an arrangement which, more often than not, worked very well.

Clough and Ferguson’s methods are certainly one way of getting what you want from your team. Both ruled their players absolutely but, rather than inhibiting their teams, it inspired them to success.  However, there are also other approaches to man management that appear to link the most successful managers of the last three seasons in Europe.

Mourinho and Guardiola seem to inspire their teams to great success in a much less confrontational way, acting almost like equals rather than autocrats. Mourinho was well known to be friendly with many of the Chelsea players like Drogba, Lampard and Terry. He got the best out of them by being one of them. This is rumoured to be the reason that Phil Scolari subsequently failed at Stamford Bridge. He tried to impose his more dictatorial style of management on the team and the players didn’t buy into it.

At Barcelona, Guardiola has built one of the greatest football teams the world has ever known by having some of the best players in the world, who are also the hardest working team in the world. The Barcelona players will literally run themselves into the ground during a game as they are completely committed to Guardiola and his vision of how football should be played. As Guardiola is a young manager, he can, I believe, connect with his players on a personal level. There is a two-way loyalty at work between the manager and his players (as there is with Mourinho at Madrid and formerly Inter and Chelsea) and this has been a key factor to success.

The absence of player commitment to a manager’s vision for the club is fatal. It can be argued that this resulted in the failures of managers like the aforementioned Scolari and Gasperini at Chelsea and Inter respectively and Roy Hodgson at Liverpool. It was also famously to blame for Brian Clough’s ill-fated spell as manager of Leeds United.

Conclusion

For a manager to succeed, they must have support from above and below, from Chairman and players. Without both of these, consistent success is impossible. Without the backing of the owners, a manager can never feel secure at a club and will never be able to bring whatever vision he may have to the club. Without commitment from the players, that vision will never be realised on the pitch. No amount of tactical genius will help make up for the players not giving 100%. There are certainly many other factors that go into separating great managers from those who have failed but, in my opinion, these are the two most important.

In conclusion then: Real life Football management – not as easy as it looks.

                                                                                                                                                              

Eoghan McMonaglecan be reached at eoghan.mcmonagle@gmail.com

Year of Reckoning – Manchester United & Chelsea

Manchester United and Chelsea have been winning the Barclays Premier League between them for last half decade. This season too they are expected to challenge each other for the title right down to the wire. Both clubs have made significant changes to their set up in terms of players or coaching personnel. What do the fans of these clubs think their prospects this season? We find out.

Manchester United – Looking Forward

So here we are, barely 2 months after the mauling in the Champions League final by Barcelona, Manchester United is barely a week away from starting another season at the Hawthorns against West Bromwich Albion (WBA). The wheel never stops turning; yesterday’s success and failures are quickly forgotten and there are new challenges to meet in the future. The nine point difference with
which United won the title is a thing of the past.
The atrocious away record and the jaw-dropping home record are seen as history. In the most of cynical of industries, yesterday’s

failures and glories are cast aside. The painful episode of Wayne Rooney’s October Revolution is quickly forgotten and the terraces are again singing his songs.
The new season, in contrast, brings innocent hope and aspirations that culminates in the kick-off at Hawthorns against WBA, and hopefully for Sir Alex, one of the many away victories in the coming season.

The Squad: A Fresh Look

The new season is also marked by a youthful feeling to United’s squad. In the summer, Sir Alex has spent more heavily than recent years and overseen a huge turnover in the squad, more than any other season under the old fox’s watch. The new look United squad is partly due to retirements of Edwin Van Der Sar, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes and the release of Owen Hargreaves (after 3 years of false hope).
Out go long-serving United players, John O’Shea and Wes Brown. Both became surplus to requirements after the emergence of the Da Silva twins, Chris Smalling and the addition of Phil Jones sealed their fate.
Goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, now also surplus with Anders Lindegaard being fit and Darron Gibson are certain to be sold before the transfer window shuts. Mame Biram Diouf will also be sold if the club finds a suitable buyer for the Senegalese striker who has failed to impress in his stay in English Football.
Interestingly, the sale of six senior pros has released around 20 Million Pounds of wages/a year from the Old Trafford. This, more than the raw cash in the banks from the Christiano

Manchester United

Chelsea
Ronaldo sale and payment received from the AON shirt sponsorship deal, has enabled Sir Alex to spend heavily this summer.
In have come three players with age in their side; typical Glazeronomics (Infuriating for some fans, it means players with a good resale value), the cynics will say.
specialist and Young brings in the promise of good deliveries in the box from corners and free-kicks. But it is difficult to see him as anything but a back-up to Nani and Antonio Valencia. There is a concern that Young offers nothing new but another wing option and improves the quality of the squad rather than the first team. Meanwhile returning from loans Danny Welback,
In David De Gea, Sir Alex has bought a ‘keeper who has genuine promise of becoming the best in the position. But the Spanish Stopper is not there yet. He is young
and talented but there will be mistakes and the United management should be patient with the shot-stopper. It is a very bold acquisition nonetheless. In Phil Jones, Sir Alex has signed a future England star, team leader and a flexible defensive option. There is little doubt that Sir Alex would have liked to wait one more season with this signing, but as before with Rooney and Smalling, United was forced into action with interests from other clubs. Finding enough playing time for the 16 Million Pound acquisition will be one of Sir Alex’s key concerns in the coming season. Then, there is the acquisition of Ashely Young. This signing has divided opinion within fans and pundits alike. No doubt Young offers flexibility in attack in various positions. In the 7 years since David Beckham’s departure, United has lacked a good dead ball Tom Cleverley and Federico Macheda adds a youthful vigor to United’s squad. Each has enjoyed some amount of success in United’s pre-season tour to the US.
Two key areas in United’s squad haven’t been addressed, till now. United lack a genuine creative midfielder and a midfield destroyer who carries the team through difficult phases of a match. The failure to land any of the one from Luca Modric, Wesley Sneijder or Samir Nasri or for that matter any creative midfielder is a concern with the United squad.
Then there is the inexplicable failure to replace Owen Hargreaves, leaving Michael Carrick to do the defensive duties in the center of the park, which he clearly doesn’t relish. With Darren Fletcher’s fitness problems, Sir Alex’s scouting network will be on a high alert for any options opening up.
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The 2011-12 Season: Looking Forward

Premier League

Domestically United’s pre-eminence was sealed in a superbly professional fashion at the end of the campaign. The nine point gap did not really tell the whole story of the campaign but arguably United were worthy winners at the end. Changes have taken place in the summer that alters the dynamics of the coming season but United are still in a strong position to defend their domestic crown.
The main challengers to United for the title this season are Chelsea, City and Arsenal. Chelsea has appointed a new manager, again, in 33 year old Andre Villas Boas. He might be a bit inexperienced at the top level but last season he has overseen a treble wining campaign at Porto so he has enjoyed success. Chelsea’s chances will depend a lot on how quickly Villas Boas can impose his style of management on the ageing Chelsea squad, can he make Fernando Torres rediscover his form and make the Drogba-Torres partnership work? These are questions to ponder about.
Roberto Mancini has assembled a fantastic squad, at Manchester City, that can seriously challenge for the title and in Sergio Aguero they have added some star dust to the City squad. Whether Tevez stays or not, City has some frightening attacking options in Aguero, Balotelli, David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Adam Johnson.
Arsenal’s pre-season has been dogged by the annual Barca-Fabregas saga and to add to that

Samir Nasri’s contractual problems. A lot will depend on what squad Arsenal will finally end up with after 31st August. They need a quality central defender and have been linked with Christopher Samba and Phil Jagielka.
As discussed earlier, United has assembled a good but a relatively young squad for the season that seems good enough to defend the Premier League Title. The back-lined and the strike-force were United’s strength and it will remain that way for this season too. At the back Van Der Sar (VDS), Neviile, Brown and O’Shea have left the club but in Jones, Smalling, Evans and the Da Silva twins, United have good young defenders to call upon in addition to Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand’s experience. In the goalkeeping department de Gea has been signed to fill the boots of VDS. He is young but very good prospect for the future. A lot will depend on how quickly he can build the understanding between the defenders.
The strike-force of United comprises Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatove, Michael Owen, Danny Welback and Kiko Macheda. A good mix of experience and youth in the department will allow United to rotate according to the needs. Hernandez had a stellar debut season, scoring 20 goals in all competitions last season. He and Rooney formed a deadly partnership in front of goal at the fag-end of last season. Rooney on the other hand had a topsy-turvy season. He had a horrendous start to the season, where he looked lost and out of form and touch; then occured the ‘October Revolution’ and the events that followed. In the last 2-3 months of
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the season he found his form back and formed that deadly partnership with Hernanded and started influencing games by playing in the ‘hole’ between the striker and the midfield. Rooney has looked very sharp in the pre-season and looks all set to have a big season for United both as a scorer and creator .Dimitar Berbatove had an unusual season. He carried the team during Rooney’s bad patch and was the joint top scorer in the Premier League with 21 goals. But his form and place to Hernandez in the lst 3 months of the season and couldn’t really influence games in where he started. The crushing blow came when he was not in the playing squad for the Champions League final and in his place Michael Owen was picked. That brings us the Owen, who made enough appearances to win his first Premier League medal but rarely played too many minutes to have any kind of influence. Danny Welback is coming back from a successful loan stint from Sunderland and hopes to make his mark at United and Macheda had a horrendous loan experience at Sampdoria where he a scored a solitary goal and the team was relegated from Serie A.
With Hernadez out for 2-3 weeks with an injury Rooney and Welback might form the partnership upfront with support from Berbatov and Owen. How Welback can get into the groove early in the season and form a reasonable partnership with Rooney, will be something to watch out for. Berbatov has lost his place in the starting 11 but how he reacts to the whole situation will be something that will intrigue some of his fans. Can he force his way back to the starting berth??

Champions League:

The real test of United’s progress or otherwise this summer will come in Europe. The humiliation at Barca’s hand, last May, is not forgotten easily and the intention-as stated by Sir Alex- is to match the Catalans. In reality United has done nothing in the summer to close the gap on Pep Guardiola’s brilliant side. This despite United friendly win against the under-cooked Catalans at Washington in the pre-season tour. Barca on the other hand has added the brilliant Alexis Sanchez and may add Cesc Fabregas by the end of the transfer window. In fact they have already added quality to an already brilliant side.
There is no guarantee United might emulate last season final run, let alone winning trophy. Real Madrid has done smart business with the addition of Nuri Sahin, a deep lying creative force, Raphale Varane, a youthful defensive addition, Fabio Coentrao will solved Madrid’s problem at left back and Hamid Altintop will provide experience in the middle of the park.
Inter’s probable retention of Sneijder, and possible recruitment of Tevez, will boost the Italians’ hopes. Gian Piero Gasperini’s old-fashioned looking 3-4-3 formation will certainly take some opposition by surprise over the next few months.
Meanwhile, 2010 finalists Bayern may well be dark-horses for a decent run in the competition following turmoil at the Allianz Arena last season. Gone is confrontational Dutchman Luis van Gaal, replaced by veteran coach Jupp Heynckes along with sensible summer

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recruitment in Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng.

Cup Competitions:

Domestic cup competitions will again be used by Ferguson to blood youngsters and ensure fringe squad members gain minutes on the pitch. Smalling, Jones, Cleverley, Macheda and Welbeck should all feature heavily. Many supporters will also look out for members of the FA Youth Cup winning squad – notably Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison – each of whom should play some part in United’s Carling Cup campaign.
In fact youth may be the theme of United’s

season, with the average age of Ferguson’s squad somewhat lower than a year ago. With it comes vibrancy but also the potential for error. How much United has lost with experienced departures may only be felt in the closing weeks of the coming season. The progression of younger players in lieu of genuine world stars – especially in central midfield – may be the key to United’s success or failure in the coming months.
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Krishnendu Sanyal is a Manchester United fan and worships Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane. Krish is a management grad by education and an accidental entrepreneur by occupation. He can be reached on twitter @kriacked
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Chelsea – Challenging the Champions

“YOU ARE FIRED”-the last words that Carlo Ancelotti would get to hear from the Chelsea boss, Roman Abramovich, after an unsuccessful attempt to either retain the Premier League crown or bring European glory to Stamford Bridge. He was the fifth manager since 2003 to be shown the door by the most impatient club owner ever known to English Football. It’s been over two months since the 2010-11 Premier League season ended, but the Stamford Bridge faithful is still finding it very difficult to cope with the disappointment of a trophy-less season. The 2011-12 soccer calendar is due to kick off in a few days and everyone around Chelsea is once again eager and desperate to win all that’s available and shout at the top of their voice, “We are the Champions”.

Flashback: What went amiss?

The defending champions of the 2010-11 EPL campaign started their title defense with style. They were mauling their opponents with ease

off a possible thirty with an impressive score of 27 goals, conceding only 3. Chelsea opened a healthy convincing lead and was breaking away from its challengers. What happened from November to the first week of January was really baffling. During this period, Chelsea played 11 times and managed only 2 wins with 5 losses and 4 draws. They scored 9 times and let in 16 goals. Injuries to key players during these two months proved disastrous and exposed a serious lack of bench strength. Ancelotti could not find able replacements for injury stricken Lampard, Essian, Drogba, Terry, Alex, Zhirkov, Benayoun and Ivanovic.
When football is played at the highest level, injuries cannot be accepted as a reason for failure. The failure of Ancelotti to nurture young players as well as providing sufficient match time to other players in the squad was quite apparent. Playing the same 15-16 players day after day risks injuries to these players and also affects the player morale of the remaining players in the squad. As a result, when the manager needed these players to deliver him the result during Nov-Dec-Jan, they simply were not able to respond. This phase in the
through attractive and effective football. Chelsea was looking like a well oiled, lethal winning machine, steam rolling anyone on their way and scoring at their will. The first ten encounters saw them winning eight games with only a draw and a loss. 25 points were scored Championship run simply cost Chelsea the title and Ancelotti his job. Interestingly the departure of Ray Wilkins, the first team coach, at the start of November coincided with the beginning of the great Chelsea slide. The controversial departure of a much respected
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coaching staff from the Chelsea ranks may have unsettled the team as well. Trying to bring back Chelsea to its winning ways, a desperate Abramovich opened the coffers and bought David Luiz and forced a deal for Fernando Torres, breaking the club transfer record in the January transfer window. From January onwards Chelsea made a strong comeback with most of the injured players back in the squad, but it was too little too late. David Luiz immediately made a mark with his good performances throughout the latter half of the season. Fernando Torres though, was the biggest disappointment. Ancelotti failed to make Torres and Drogba come to terms with each other. Torres lacked the sharpness in front of the goal and could finally score after 10 games.

Throughout the season the performance of the team against the top six clubs was also disappointing. They could only manage four wins, two draws and six losses against the top half teams of (1) Manchester United, (3) Manchester City, (4) Arsenal, (5) Tottenham, (6) Liverpool and (7) Everton. The away record was even more dismal with out a single win. The team defending the championship could only salvage 7 wins, 5 draws and 7 losses from away fixtures. The Champions League Quarter Final
loss against Manchester United and the FA Cup exit against Everton were the final nails in the coffin.

The New Era: Andre Villas Boas comes to Chelsea


The unprecedented success achieved by Andre Villas Boas at such a young age with FC Porto brought him to everyone’s attention. The stunning European and domestic performance of Porto was unanimously attributed to the ruthless but measured attacking style of football masterminded by Andre Villas Boas. He was delivering the result with attractive football and won almost everything possible. The vacant top job at Stamford Bridge was up for grabs, and finally Roman Abramovich made his move with a record breaking £13.3 million offer. On June 22, Andre Villas Boas was presented as the Manager of Chelsea. In his first press-conference he made it absolutely clear that he was not going to make any hasty decisions. He was not going to storm the transfer market and make unwanted purchases without understanding the current squad. He reiterated

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that managing Chelsea is not a one-man job and stressed that he always relied on his back room staff. He called himself “The Group One”, confidently shrugging off the comparisons made with his mentor, Jose Mourinho and refused the title “The Special One V2”. The Chelsea fans could finally sense stability and calmness in the days ahead. His previous stint in Chelsea as a deputy to the Special One, Jose Mourinho, and his fluency in English was a big advantage. Villas Boas seemed the perfect person to manage Chelsea. His infectious love for the game and the ability to make each and every member of the squad feel needed and important was felt by everyone. Villas Boas’ strength is his ability to study each and every opposition player to the minutest details and decide on match strategies likewise.
The Portuguese League is not the strongest of the Football Leagues. The 15 team League is a two horse race with Benfica, the traditional challenger. One can argue that his total of two years experience in professional coaching and management is a concern. His philosophy of playing attacking football irrespective of any match situation is truly unique and brave. But in a highly competitive league like the EPL with four or five teams breathing down the neck, this strategy may backfire. Sometimes he may have to preserve a lead against strong teams and play deep.
However the Europa League performance of FC Porto gives the Chelsea fans a lot of hope. The performance of FC Porto during this tournament showed his maturity and adaptability during a match. The stunning revival against Villarreal, after conceding early goals and the
measured approach against Braga’s solid midfield in the Europa League Final shows a lot of character.

The 2011-12 Premier League Season: Charging ahead

Andre Villas Boas started the Chelsea calendar with a few warm-up Pre-Season matches. The first few matches against Wycombe Wanderers, Portsmouth and Malaysia XI were not impressive at all. They were jittery throughout the match, failed to create proper chances in front of the goal and the shooting in front of the goal lacked sharpness. This was not the kind of start Villas Boas was looking for. Finally in the later matches against Thailand XI, Kitchee and Aston Villa in the promotional Barclays Asia Trophy, Chelsea could make a mark. The team was beginning to take shape. In the final pre-season friendly against Rangers, Chelsea had appeared to be in shape.
The reluctance shown by Chelsea in the transfer market to buy established players confirmed what Andre Villas Boas was saying all along. He was counting on the existing squad to deliver him the results. The presence of a lot of 16-18-20 year olds in the pre-season friendlies made it clear that he is keen to nurture young talents and bring young legs to the already ageing squad. He wants to build a squad for the future. The only summer transfer purchase was of Romelu Lukaku (FW), Thibaut Courtois (GK), Oriol Romeu (MF) and Lucas Piazon (MF). On the other hand, he sold out Yuri Zhirkov and Michael Mancienne, amongst a host of other players.

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In almost all the pre-season matches, Villas Boas stuck to a classical 4-3-3 formation with a holding defensive midfielder staying a little deep and providing the link between the defense and the midfield. He heavily relied on Joshua McEachran for this position. The 18 year old was impressive during the matches. The calmness and composure shown by him at this position is truly remarkable. John Obi Mikel, the other contender for this position will face some stiff competition for a first team place from this 18 yr old kid. The central defensive line was formed by John Terry, Ivanovic and Alex since David Luiz was injured during these friendlies. The left wing belongs to its rightful owner, Ashley Cole who is extremely reliable in his defensive positions and quite potent
in overlapping during an offensive move. For the right back position, Paulo Ferriera is a better defender but Jose Bosingwa is much more effective during an attacking move. A fit David Luiz will have the defence in a better organized and effective formation with Ivanovic taking the right back position with John Terry and David Luiz controlling the central defence. Frank Lampard is the playmaker in the Central Midfield. The injury to Essien at the beginning of the season has more or less confirmed Ramires as the player alongside Lampard in the midfield. Ramires’ ability to provide a sudden accelerating and penetrating run in the opposing defense with Frank Lampard following behind with his stealthy late run-in the box can be menacing for the defending team. The final three positions look promising. The kind of players available with Villas Boas gives him the freedom to try out different formations. The pre-season matches saw Fernando Torres team up with Solomon Kalou on the left and Sturridge on the right. Sturridge was the stand out performer providing support to Torres and also making defense splitting runs to trouble the markers. Fernando Torres is still a big let down and a worry for the team. His off-the-ball movement, swift turns and first touch is still very good, but he lacks that final shot on the goal. Didier Drogba is still the player to vouch for. His physical presence ahead of the formation creates opportunities for the other two attacking players as well. His ability to play swift passes with the wingers creates more chances in front of the goal, and the goalkeepers still find his snap-shooting difficult to block. When Drogba is on the field, Villas Boas can also look for Anelka, Malouda or Kalou
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on either side of him. The match against Rangers saw how effective the formation Sturridge-Drogba-Kalou can be. While defending, Chelsea prefers a 1-4-1-4 formation. The two attacking players from the wings join the two midfielders to make the middle line with the defensive midfielder dropping between the back four and the midfield. The middle pressing starts with Ramires leading the charge with Lampard following close behind from the left and Kalou from the right. McEachran / Mikel generally stay deep and provide support and fills in the free spaces when attacked round the wings. They are also in a position to support the central defenders when overwhelmed by a strong attacking combination.

The 2011-12 Premier League title challenge begins

Chelsea’s challenge for the 2011-12 Premier League totle begins with an away fixture at Stoke on 14th August. Andre Villas Boas has already managed to put together a team capable of challenging the defending champions, Manchester United. The stability that he has brought to this club with his measured approach will be put to test against other big teams of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City through out the championship race. A combination of young legs and experience is available to Andre Villas Boas to bring Chelsea success with style. Beware; Chelsea will be back with a vengeance.
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Tamal Kanti Santra loves Spanish football and is a die-hard Brazil fan. He is an amateur writer taking keen interest on the technical aspect of the game. You can follow Tamal on twitter @Tamal_Santra

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