Monday, November 3, 2014

No Nonsense - an update.

Folks, most of you or at least those of you who read the stuff I write will have noticed a steep decline in the amount of articles. This is by way of an explanation.

I started out writing this blog due to frustrations at what I felt were damn good letters going unpublished on F365. This provided a platform for my various vents/rants/and occasional piece of serious writing. However.......

The reality is that it is nigh on impossible for a mere amateur like myself to get my stuff across to a wider audience. Despite numerous attempts to widen the net it seems that getting a private blog out to a large number of people was beyond me.

In the meantime I had started posting some cricketing articles on a website called Backward Point based out of Australia, which subsequently closed down, ho hum.

A fellow white collar boxer Nick Burnham suggested I started submitting articles for The Roar in Australia. The Roar is a wonderful interactive platform that connects writers of all levels of experience with a wide and highly responsive audience.

From there, a very nice young chap called Ayo who runs Voomfootball asked me to write feature pieces for his website which I have since been doing on a regular basis.

Also, at the same time, my very good friend Julius Foo put me in touch with Andy Whitelaw at Red Card Sports Radio here in Singapore. Since first being introduced back in July I have been in the studio twice on the live show as well as several phone interviews again on the live show.

Andy and Ahmad Khan that front the show are two extremely talented and professional young individuals who I hope and believe will go on the be roaring successes in the sporting media world.

Their RedCardConnect website is now up and running also and I will be submitting regular articles there.

These platforms are allowing me access to a far wider audience than I could dream of with my own site and each of them allows a huge amount of freedom to write the pieces that you wish to.

The cricket writing has had to take a bit of a back seat for the time being and what I have discovered over time is that I lack the technical knowledge of cricket to really write about it effectively having never really played the game.

I will continue to write the odd piece here and there if there is something I feel well placed to write about.

So, No Nonsense isn't dead, far from it. I will however be continuing to write and post articles using the excellent platforms that I have mentioned above rather than via the No Nonsense page.

No Nonsense, where the name came from.

The guy in the picture, Brian Clough was probably the original and ultimate no nonsense footballing figure, he was a (flawed) genius but always told it how it was which is the aim of the writing.

The actual idea for the 'No Nonsense' tag came from an (he's actually Welsh) England cricket fan who I ran into a couple of times at the Gabba Ashes test, as I recall he resides in Perth, WA.

Throughout the Test and regardless of score, periodically throughout the day from his seat in the middle tier (usually above a huge contingent of Aussie fans) he would cup his hands and make an amazing type of hooter sound at huge volume which always got everyone's attention.

He would then stand up and hold two placard boards up, one said ''AVE' and the other said 'IT!' He would shout this at the top of his voice several times much to the chagrin of the home support below him.

On their becoming slightly boisterous in their animated response to his antics, he would whip the signs over and they now read 'NO' and 'NONSENSE' and he would make a large and exaggerated 'shush' motion with his index finger in front of his mouth ushering silence - which annoyed everyone even more. He would then sit down and wait for about an hour before doing it again, entirely priceless if you were there to see it.

So in the meantime, look out for RedCardConnect and Voomfootball, these guys deserve everyone's support for trying to do something really fan based and if you don't ever read the Roar website, it's definitely worth a look.

No Nonsense.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

It's a two - neigh a three - horse Premiership race

October is of course early days in terms of an entire season but the Premiership looks to have already taken on a shade of blue again as Chelsea and Manchester City currently lead the way.

Chelsea were backed by many before the season started with the additions of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. Allied to the return of Nemanja Matic in January, many of last seasons' shortcomings were seen to be remedied.

Costa's start has of course been phenomenal and if those much talked about hamstrings (Mourinho playing it up to pressurise Spain not to play him?) hold out for a season and he maintains anything like this form, Chelsea will be tough to beat.

Whilst Costa's all round play has been good, his real boon to Chelsea has been in allowing them to score the type of goals that they simply would not have last season.

He is a true predator, a 'killer' as Arsene Wenger said before he attempted a slightly pantomime impression of one himself at the weekend.

Cesc has also been immense since joining the club and it may simply be that many people had forgotten just how good he is given the players around him at Barca.

He was after all probably the outstanding midfielder in the Premiership before his departure to Catalonia.

Costa's hamstrings and Terry's ageing legs will be concerns but this looks the best Chelsea squad in years. Mourinho's tactical nous (love him or hate him) also remains a trump card. Should Chelsea improve their results against the lower half of the table then they are the team to beat.

Manchester City remain a class act and a hugely physically imposing team. The addition of Mangala at centre back looks a good one alongside Kompany.

In Toure (the interested version), David Silva and Sergio Aguero they have three supreme match winners and Edin Dzeko should also relish additional responsibility and match time.

Frank Lampard has also been a wonderful bonus as Chelsea found to their cost recently. The gap would be eight points without his late strike against his former side.

City are looking to gather momentum but they need to find a way to deal with teams more effectively that sit deep against them at the Etihad.

Pellegrini's obvious consternation against both Stoke and Chelsea show that it is possible to frustrate them by defending deep. They have far too much quality for most teams in the EPL however.

Arsenal and Wenger it seems appear impervious to any notion of change.

In the past two Summers, it would be hard to criticise a team for buying two players of the quality of Ozil and Sanchez but the reality is that none of the obvious deficiencies in the team have been addressed.

Chelsea did not need to be remotely at their best to brush Arsenal aside on Sunday and the lack of any real grit or character in the side remains a problem.

Arsenal are a wonderful team when they have the ball but they are poor when they lose possession. Wenger clearly wants to mimic Guardiola's teams but the reality is that they work just as hard without the ball, pressing all over the pitch.

Arsenal do not and are the big teams find them easy to pick off. Their results against the other top teams in the division are simply appalling.

After last season's near miss, this time around was bound to be tough for Liverpool.

The departure of Luis Suarez was always going to leave a hole but no one had possibly realised just how big and his absence has been compounded by the injury to Daniel Sturridge.

Nearly every side who sells a player head and shoulders above anything else in their team struggles the following season and the reality is that Liverpool's potent attacking play and goals scoring last season papered over a myriad of cracks.

The need for rotation around the Champions League is also a huge added burden on both the squad and Rodgers.

Liverpool should improve as the new additions integrate in to the team but the loss of Suarez and father time catching up with Gerrard mean that they are not as strong as they were last season. Qualifying for the Champions League again should be seen as a successful season.

The joker in the pack and the third horse I earlier referred to is Manchester United. They are entirely unrecognisable from almost any of their sides in the past twenty years and it is incredibly difficult to assess where they sit in the scheme of things.

One could possibly present an argument for them finishing anywhere from first to seventh such is the nature of their play so far this season but I have a feeling they are going to be closer to first than seventh for the following reasons.

Liverpool last season showed that even with a dodgy defence, the absence of European football and one star player with a good support class could sustain a title challenge.

Chelsea last season were exceptional against the top six yet flunked their title lines by not being clinical enough against the lower half of the table. Liverpool simply blew most of the league away after the Fulham match.

In Angel Di Maria, United have one of the outstanding talents in world football right now. His direct running and passing is causing havoc against the teams that United have played against so far.

With a support cast of Falcao, Van Persie, Rooney and co they will simply have too much firepower for the majority of teams.

Leicester I hear you cry (!!) as well as close run things against West Ham and Everton and they are very valid points.

United's back four are taking the lions' share of the blame but the reality is that United are horribly open when they lose the ball and this must be addressed.

My point would be that Louis Van Gaal is too good a coach not to correct this.

Van Gaal's methods require very exacting demands of his players, his planning is meticulous in terms of game strategy and instructions. It takes time for players to adjust to this style of management and he has suffered slow starts elsewhere in his career.

United will improve and have several players due to come back from injury. The likes of Michael Carrick will help United to keep the ball later in matches rather than play at the breakneck speed they only seem capable of at the moment.

United have slipped into fourth place after admittedly a mediocre start and without playing the top teams yet. Van Gaal will need to find a way to play against the likes of City and Chelsea to avoid more results like at Leicester.

If the Dutchman can find a way to keep United in touch into the new year then United may be well placed to benefit just as Liverpool did last year from better fitness, less games and more time on the training pitch.

Chelsea will hope to go deep into the Champions League tournament and Mourinho is usually loathe to rotate too much.

City's first two results in the CL leave them with the possibility of dropping into the Europa League and the seemingly hazardous combination of Thursday and Sunday football (can anyone really explain this one to me!?).

If United can maintain their recent home results and find a formula to win on the road against the lower half teams then they should at least garner enough points to make the top four even if the title seems a bit of a stretch.

Spurs and Everton have given the top four a scare in recent seasons but the reality is that neither possesses the quality to sustain a title challenge.

So it looks like Blue Ribbons (either light or royal) on the trophy once more but beware that very big (although Jose may currently refer to them as little) thoroughbred from Old Trafford, it's certainly a wild one - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Should clubs really care about their country?

With the end of the transfer window and another International week upon us. There has again been lament in the English press as to the state of the national team and the prospects for squad members in the EPL.

Of course, Britain like nearly any country you could mention enjoys a large dollop of good old fashioned xenophobia when the mood takes it.

The Premiership has courted the world's wealth through TV deals, foreign ownership and by buying up the best talent wherever it can.

All of course with the FA's full blessing and not the slightest hint of irony nor hypocrisy. Let's not forget the FA was instrumental in forming the Premiership, wrestling the competition away from the Football League as they chased the money along with the clubs.

The logic that many footballing sages are deriving is that this resultant 'foreign armada' has led to a steep downturn in the fortunes of the England team.

However, to suggest that the England team is in decline is also utter tosh. England did not even qualify for the '74, '78 and '94 World Cups. There have also been a plethora of woeful performances at the Euros such as '88 and '92. The Premiership first season was '92-93.

Since that inception, England have only missed two major tournaments (USA '94 immediately afterwards and Euro '08) and have generally got through the group stages in the other tournaments.

The level they are at is generally the level they have performed at for the past 50 years.

What is undeniable is that English (or even British) players are playing far less minutes in the Premiership and are occupying far less of the key positions - especially for the teams at the top of the table.

Manchester United last season under Moyes were widely derided for their lack of ambition or ability in the transfer market. It was said that they could no longer compete against the Reals and the Barcas at the very top of the market.

This Summer, United have spent around 150M culminating with the signing of Angel Di Maria for circa 60M and Radamel Falcao on loan.

These two signings of a striker and a midfielder have prompted the departures of the very same, Danny Wellbeck and Tom Cleverley.

This has led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the press (the same press criticising United's transfer policy for not attracting the big names) that United are abandoning their traditions of developing youth.

Louis Van Gaal, whilst not possibly the coaching God that many profess him to be, strikes me as hugely pragmatic man.

He is faced with a United team staring at a horrendous decline, out of the Champions League and having suffered an awful start to the season.

Does anyone think that the two players that have been replaced have not been done so with big upgrades?

Danny Wellbeck is of course United born and bred. Teams would all love to have players who have come through their own systems born a few streets from the ground. Even removing the sentiment, it makes perfect sense for a variety of reasons.

But what if those players are not good enough? In Wellbeck's case it's maybe a touch harsh as the jury is still very much 'out'.

He splits opinion and many believe he's a fine player but the truth is he's a notch below the very best players that United covet.

English players usually carry a huge premium and the fact he went for 16M only indicates the top teams were not as a whole hugely interested in him. Arsenal will feel they have a bargain and time will tell whether Wenger can improve him greatly, if so they may well be right.

In Tom Cleverley's case, the fact that England fans arranged a petition to have him excluded from the team tells you everything as to the perception of how good he is.

Whilst at Ajax, Van Gaal oversaw a wonderful team with a plethora of Dutch talent, Reizeger, Blind, Frank and Ronald De Boer, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Marc Overmars and Patrick Kluivert.

Whilst at Barcelona, he returned to Holland to take several of those players to the club as well as Cocu and Zenden. Barcelona required instant results and right now, so do United.

Whilst these various footballing experts rush to blame foreign coaches, foreign owners and anyone else not at least three generations English for the woes of the England team, they could consider that Johnny Foreigner actually provides the solution.

I firmly believe that the reason that English players are not flourishing in the EPL is because they are simply not good enough (and far too expensive).

That is a problem the FA needs to address through vastly improved infrastructure and coaching at a much younger level. The players are already too far behind the curve before they enter into the professional structure.

One way to attempt to combat this in the short term is for English and British players to be far more ready to move abroad. It is a singularly British issue that we are so reluctant to try anything new and the riches of the EPL make it too tempting to sit pampered on the bench.

Gareth Bale was already a wonderful player at Spurs but going to Madrid will almost certainly improve him.

Whilst in the gloaming of his career, Ashley Cole's move to Roma is a refreshing one. Far too few English players are prepared to take the great leap into the unknown. Likewise, Micah Richards' move to Fiorentina is a pleasant surprise.

I'm quite sure the almost complete inability of the Brits (I am one) to wrap their heads around a second language is a big hurdle and surely a player such as Tom Cleverley could have benefited from a move abroad.

Southampton are being lauded right now for their development of English talent and rightly so. A true cynic however could simply suggest that it is less than rocket science to figure out that concentrating on developing English talent that attracts a huge premium in the market is a very good way to run a business.

Southampton have cashed in big time this Summer selling English players such as Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Callum Chambers (also Rickie Lambert). They should be commended for both grooming them and the huge profits they have made.

The majority of the replacements they have duly signed are foreign. Spurs reinvested the Bale money heavily on foreign talent, to a degree Liverpool also with the Suarez fee, there is clearly a reason, or probably several.

Is it really sensible to suggest that the responsibility to develop players for the England team resides with Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger as one journalist suggested the other day?

It's a dreadful cliché but football is a results business and managers are employed to do what's best for their club.

If Van Gaal thinks United will do better this season and maybe next by employing Radamel Falcao instead of Danny Wellbeck and he has the required resources then should he really be thinking about England's fortunes in the Euro qualifiers?

Spain have enjoyed the most wonderful period in their history with a batch of players the envy of the world. Their stars populated Real and in particular Barcelona through their wonderful period of success.

A look however at the current Real and Barca line ups shows a slightly differing story.

Real's forward line boasts Rodriguez, Bale, Ronaldo, Benzema as well as a central midfield of Kroos, Khedira and Modric.

Barca's all star forward line is formed of Suarez, Messi and Neymar.

Whilst the two teams still boast the likes of Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Iniesta and Busquets, it's hardly suggesting that the situation is vastly different in Spain to how it is in England.

Both teams recruited almost exclusively foreign talent this year whilst selling Spanish players.

Spanish players however are far more open to moves abroad. The Premiership has seen Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, Xabi Alonso, Roberto Soldado, Pepe Reina, Alvaro Negredo and David Silva to name some of the best ones all to make the move to the Premiership.

Alonso has just moved again to Bayern where he will team up with the (injured) Spanish duo of Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara.

The Spanish are clearly taking a far more pragmatic view of things, if Real and Barca are full of top foreign talent, no problem we will go abroad ourselves. If we're good enough (and we seem to be) a top team will pick us up.

Now it is clear that just running through that list of Spanish players that the talent on offer in Spain right now is far and away beyond what is on offer in England but again, this illustrates that the problem is in youth coaching in the UK and not with the clubs being full of foreign players.

Spain has consistently taken prime young talent from South America as well as enduring the likes of Real's Galacticos policy yet still won three major tournaments back to back.

English players moving abroad would not offer a magic wand as the real issue is youth coaching and most of the damage will still already be done. It certainly couldn't do any harm however.

The young Scot, Ryan Gauld just this Summer joined Sporting Lisbon as he felt it was the best place to progress his career - he is a gifted diminutive attacking midfielder - rather than take the easy option of a big offer from the Premiership. It is refreshing but all too rare.

The English press will continue to blame Johnny Foreigner and the evils of money in the football for the woes of the English football team.

They will also extol the virtues of English football should one of these expensively assembled sides lift the Champions League.

The reality is that the problem lies at home firstly with the abject number and quality of coaches and with a marked reluctance of their players to try different footballing cultures.

Suggesting that the likes of Van Gaal and Mourinho have a moral obligation to wrong those rights smacks of newspaper selling copy through printing Nationalistic nonsense -  and we insist upon No Nonsense.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Di Maria poses tactical questions for Van Gaal

Angel Di Maria has become Manchester United's and Britain's most expensive player when signing for the Reds for just under 60M.

Di Maria is undoubtedly a fine player of huge pedigree and talent. Some may suggest that 60M does not offer value but in the context of Suarez and Bale it's arguable that he does. You could also argue he makes Fabregas at 30M look rather cheap.

Of course the value of a player cannot be taken in such splendid isolation such are the associated commercial benefits and of course the relative position of any given club.

Given United's absence from the Champions League and their poor start to the season, could they have afforded NOT to buy him?

Real Madrid may feel they have traded up with the acquisition earlier this Summer of James Rodriguez and the bargain acquisition of Toni Kroos but Di Maria's stats at Real show they are losing a player of sublime quality and influence.

For the second year in a row, Real are selling their number one assist provider. In that respect their loss is most certainly United's gain, but the big question is how does he fit into the current United team?

Van Gaal has decreed that United will play 3-4-3 for the foreseeable with the acquisition of Di Maria's international team mate Marcos Rojo presumably seen as aiding that purpose.

The 3-4-3 however has been tweaked into a 3-4-1-2 to accommodate a front three of Mata, Rooney and RVP who all crave to play centrally. Fitting Di Maria into that equation prompts several questions.

It is not entirely simple to bracket Di Maria as a player. He nominally looks best equipped as a wide attacking player with his rangy, mazy dribbling skills.

Steve McMananaman was a similar (at least aesthetically) type of player for Madrid who adapted to a more central role. Neither player however would thrive in the deeper lying central midfield role which a 3-4-3 dictates.

That leaves Van Gaal with two further options for Di Maria. The first would be as a wing back which would appear folly on two levels.

Di Maria does not look equipped for the defensive burden of that position and in turn that role would take away from the wonderful attacking intent that he possesses. He is an attacking provider and should be used as such.

The position most likely under scrutiny then must become that of Juan Mata if the three at the back system is to be persisted with (and it would prove quite a climbdown for Van Gaal to abandon it so quickly).

Di Maria offers a more energetic type of scheming to Mata with his far greater athleticism. An advanced central position may work for Di Maria and offer more energy in attack for United.

The other option is to play a 3-4-3 with Di Maria in a wide role. This presumably means that one of Rooney, Van Persie and Mata have to be played out of position with one other left disappointed on the bench.

Rooney has looked keen to fit in with Van Gaal's plans and he would undoubtedly provide honest endeavour in a wider role but it does not suit his talent best.

It also entirely marginalises Juan Mata who it must be remembered was bought for North of 40M only eight months ago.

Having just despatched a cheque for 60M, Van Gaal will of course be expected to play Di Maria from the outset and with only league football until the FA Cup arrives in January there will be little desire or need for rotation.

Di Maria would be an excellent addition to any squad such is his quality but Van Gaal's statement of playing three at the back means fitting him into the side effectively is tricky.

A 4-2-3-1 would accommodate both Mata and Di Maria but again would marginalise either RVP or Rooney. With Rooney being made captain and the need for RVP's goals, Juan Mata is increasingly looking like the odd man out.

RVP's fitness has been suspect for the majority of his career and with his advancing years Van Gaal may not see him as a long term bet. The prospect of Di Maria and Mata buzzing around behind an advanced Rooney possibly makes sense with a 3-4- formation behind them.

Van Gaal is of course renowned for his tactical nous and adaptability. How Di Maria fits in will be fascinating especially given the context of the players around him in the attacking positions and especially if everyone is fit - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Little Nostalgia on offer at White Hart Lane.

It was of little surprise that Spurs despatched QPR at White Hart Lane on Sunday but the relative progress of the two belligerents showed up a growing chasm.

So big was the difference in the two teams that it was tough to spot where the line was between Spurs being good and QPR being awful.

To start with the positives, Spurs look an infinitely better side than they were last season. It is early days and there will be far tougher tests than Sunday but they now look a team with a very distinct identity.

Last season it was hard to ascertain whether the numerous players they had signed to replace the Madrid bound Gareth Bale were actually any good. Trying to figure out their best eleven was nigh on impossible and proved to be too difficult for both AVB and Tim Sherwood.

Mauricio Pochettino has mainly kept his powder dry since his arrival at White Hart Lane. Spurs already had a squad burgeoning in numbers but with little cohesion. Vast new numbers of players was not the answer.

Spurs on Sunday looked a team with energy and purpose completely aware of their roles in the side. It was hard to judge the defence with any real certainty given the paucity of attacking from QPR but the pair of Bentaleb and Capoue bristled with intent in the holding midfield positions.

They offered the platform for both Spurs' attacking full backs and the attack minded triumvirate of Eriksen, Lamela and Chadli.

Presumably far more than just a hunch persuaded Spurs to part with over 25M for Erik Lamela last Summer. His first season was of course an unmitigated disaster but his performance against QPR offered many clues as to the undoubted talent that he clearly possesses.

At 22 years of age and with a countryman for a manager, he may well yet prove to be a very good Spurs player.

Of all Spurs' signings last year, Christian Eriksen looked the best and again on Sunday he looked a midfield schemer supreme and the 11M that Spurs spent on him looks an absolute steal.

Whether Lamela and Eriksen can impose themselves in such a manner away from home and against better sides remains to be seen but with a rejuvenated (and interested) Emmanuel Adebayor up front also they should have too much fire power for most Premiership teams.

Adebayor looks a far more potent goal threat than the toiling Roberto Soldado who has only two Premiership goals from open play to his name.

For Spurs, real progress in the league will be tough as the top four ceiling is made of very thick glass and over the duration of a season, Arsenal still hold a huge psychological advantage over their North London neighbours.

But Pochettino has so far made a hugely positive start to his tenure at White Hart Lane and one must hope that Daniel Levy gives the highly talented coach the time to truly leave his mark on the club.

Harry Redknapp enjoys wonderful press in the UK, he has cultivated a relationship and status with the red tops that only Terry Venables in recent times could rival.

4 Premiership wins from 27 in his time at QPR tells another story of his latest stewardship however.

QPR were entirely dreadful on Sunday bereft of shape, energy and pace. Neither their central midfield nor their creaking backline looked capable of coping with Premiership football.

What is also less than clear is who exactly is calling the shots at QPR. The other Spurs managerial alumni Glenn Hoddle cast a very long shadow over Redknapp from his seat in the directors' box on Sunday.

The three at the back system was widely mooted upon Hoddle's arrival at Loftus Road but a trio of Caulker and the badly ageing pair of Ferdinand and Dunne hardly look equipped to deal with the quality that the likes of Spurs possess.

Richard Dunne in particular looked horribly out of position on the left side of the back three, a natural right footed player, he was left badly exposed as Nacer Chadli stole in for the opener.

Presumably Redknapp resumed the reigns at half time as QPR reverted to a back four, of course by that time the hoops were already dead and buried.

Joey Barton remains a class act for all his antics but he was offered little support by either Mutch or Fer in a midfield simply unable to cope with Spurs' high press and energy.

Mutch, Caulker and Fer were three of QPR's Summer signings. It is worth noting that all three were relegated from the Premiership last season and on this evidence, all three may become serial offenders.

Loic Remy has been the subject of much transfer talk and he must indeed be wondering what exactly the point is in his role at QPR given the lack of service he receives.

What is so galling for QPR fans is that they have apparently learned nothing from their previous Premiership stay under the ownership of Tony Fernandes.

Mr Fernandes is presumably an intelligent man given the wealth he has accumulated but his acumen at running sports teams (take a look at Caterham F1's recent history) belies a man possibly out of his depth and possibly without the financial resources required to succeed in the glamorous worlds he so craves.

The transfer window has not yet shut but QPR look a long way from being anything else other than in deep relegation trouble again this season. The situation between Hoddle and Redknapp is also one that could cloud matters further.

For Spurs however, whilst there have been many false dawns, their squad suddenly looks far more balanced - more quality at centre back wouldn't go amiss however - and in Pochettino they look to have a class act in charge.

Southampton ran out of steam last season pursuing Pochettino's high energy pressing game, Spurs have far more depth to their squad and should last the course.

It could be a bright season at the Lane, less so Westward at Loftus Road - No Nonsense.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

When football fans fall in love...........

Yes I know, Frank Lampard left Chelsea on good terms and after many years of incredible service.

Yes I know I had plenty of forewarning he was leaving to join another club and he said goodbye in the most wonderful of ways praising the fans to the highest.

But I didn't know he was going to Manchester City.

And again, yes I know it's only on a few months loan and then he'll be off to his real destination in New York for a fistful of dollars.

But there's a nagging doubt that has now appeared. If he's scored ten goals by Christmas, for a few dollars (ok pounds.....) more could Abu Dhabi extend his 'loan' to City and before I know it he's a fully fledged City player?

OK, the second part hasn't happened yet and probably won't but terrible thoughts pop into your head when a legend from your club joins a rival team, even if he is now 36 and has surely earned the right for one last big payday.

And of course he has earned that right, but only of course in circumstances of my choosing.

Manchester City are not even a historical rival of Chelsea. Before the money came along, they were both clubs with histories marked with brief glories, relegations and long periods of mediocrity. Chelsea always had a swagger but both were only really united in their hatred of well, United.

Both clubs have of course morphed dramatically with new ownership and new rivalries have been formed.

Chelsea's traditional rivals, Spurs and West Ham have been supplemented by new hostilities with Liverpool (think Champions League and Benitez and Mourinho) and an increasing one with United due to now common footballing targets.

So why should I care that Super Frank is joining City?

Well of course it's because I don't see much else other than the domestic league that my club plays in as really worth caring about. Sure the ultimate prize is the Champions League but if Lampard had joined Bayern or Real or AC Milan, I'd have wished him well.

'Look at our boy off to rubber stamp his career with one last swansong at one of the great clubs of Europe, says everything about him and us'. Job done.

Off to join Arsenal or Liverpool however? I'd have gone bonkers.

And the New York Red Bulls?

For the average Premiership fan who cares little for 'soccer' across the pond it's like something you read in the Hollywood gossip magazines (they belong to my wife, honest.....).

It is nothing more than a passing fancy, something to titillate and amuse over your morning coffee. We care little for the USA's obvious progress at the World Cup, we are far too parochial and self important for that.

If he'd gone to Melbourne I'd have cheered, here would be another shot in the arm for the A League, linking up with David Villa and bringing an already promising product closer to the boil. Three cheers for Lamps doing his bit for global football.

But joining City?

This is of course highly petty and all a bit silly. This is far from Luis Figo defecting from Barca to arch rivals Real at the peak of his career, a defection so heinous it still resonates loudly in Catalonia.

Lampard is mainly past it, City aren't even a proper rival in the truest sense, if we've 'got no history' then surely they're even worse!? But there is the rub.

Figo's defection was a simple one, you burned your no7 shirt, ripped the poster from your sons' bedroom wall and if you got really bent out of shape about it, turned up at the Nou Camp and threw a pig's head at the bloke. Simple stuff, he was dead to you.

But what do I do about Super Frank?

Many Chelsea fans have taken to Twitter and Facebook to vent their ire, calling him a traitor, wheeling out all the expected clichés and names.

Supporters from all clubs would do the same even if in this case it's a huge overreaction. We are human after all and we are hurt by these infidelities.

Fabregas has been castigated by Arsenal fans despite Wenger not wanting him back, the detail and facts matter little in these cases.

Except I can't do that with Frank. To do so would be to besmirch a memory that is too important to me.

I will simply blot out his indiscretion like so many of his fans and Nike did with Tiger Woods, it simply didn't happen, move on. They are after all similar marital indiscretions, best swept under the carpet.

So Frank, do I wish you well at City?

I'm not sure really, I certainly don't wish you any injury and I hope you are a roaring success at New York.

But I honestly can't say I want it to work out well in Manchester and I desperately hope you find a convenient thigh strain before we play you at the Etihad in September.

People just don't realise how tough it is being a football fan sometimes especially once you've found true love............ No Nonsense.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

La Liga - is Gareth Bale correct?

Times are good at Real Madrid, they have just lifted La Decima and over the Summer have added two of the shining stars from the World Cup.

First Toni Kroos and now the 80 odd million Euro capture of James Rodriguez. Barcelona too have added Luis Suarez to their already glittering array of attacking talent.

Gareth Bale, who himself joined Real last year for a world record fee has stated that this proves that La Liga is the best league in the world, such is the concentration of the world's elite players.

The question is, is he correct?

By several measures he most probably is. A straw poll of who global football fans think are the top few dozen players in the world would certainly include Messi and Ronaldo every time.

It is probably safe to say that a majority would also pick several from names such as Bale, Neymar Jr, Iniesta, Di Maria, Benzema, Khedira, Busquets, Ramos and now Kroos, Rodriguez and Suarez.

The names ooze quality, class and in most cases a whole lorry load of silverware to back up those claims.

The only issue with all of the above names is that they play only for two teams out of the twenty that contest La Liga.

Andy Whitelaw posed the question on Red Card Sports Radio this week as to whether La Liga was just a (far more) glamorous version of the Scottish League and it is a very valid question to ask.

Atletico of course pricked that bubble to a degree by winning La Liga this season. A collective sigh of relief was heard from all corners.

Many people - including myself - love the football on show in La Liga but find it slightly monotonous watching Real and Barca rack up huge wins week in week out. Atletico's triumph restored some faith in the product. But what happened next?

Barcelona have since recruited Luis Suarez and Real have snapped up Kroos and Rodriguez as they celebrate La Decima whilst Atletico have simply been decimated.

From 2010 until last season, the points totals for first second and third were '10 - 99, 96, 71, '11 - 96, 92, 71, '12 - 100, 91, 61, '13 - 100, 85, 76, '14 - 90, 87, 87.

If we are trying to argue that it is a competitive league then these are some pretty tough numbers to digest until last season when Atletico's presence put pressure on the big two as all three stumbled towards the line in the last few rounds of fixtures.

However, if you consider European success as a measure of a competitive league then Spain offers some more compelling numbers.

Barca (3) and Real (1) have won four of the last nine Champions Leagues. Had Real not won last year's final then Atletico would have done keeping the trophy in Spain and diversifying from these two serial winners.

A look at the Europa League however offers an even more compelling argument. Spanish clubs (Sevilla 3, Valencia 1, Atletico 2) have won six out of the last eleven finals. Spain's current European coefficient far surpasses that of anyone else.

Yes one can argue that English clubs do not always prioritise the Europa League but it is nevertheless a hugely impressive performance by the Spanish clubs showing that spending huge swathes of cash is not always a better way than sound coaching and shrewd scouting.

So where does all of this leave the English Premiership in comparison?

Well by several other measures it is of course the biggest and best league. It has unrivalled global television audiences, is awash with money throughout the game (with accompanying levels of debt to match the Spanish it should be noted) and often produces exciting football and close fought title battles involving several teams.

Or does it?

Since the inception of the Premiership, there has been one single dominant team, Manchester United. Blackburn and Newcastle offered resistance in the 90s before Arsenal again rose to their rightful place at the summit of the English game under the fresh stewardship of Arsene Wenger.

As Arsenal lost their way, new money arrived in the English game in the shape of Chelsea and then Manchester City. The emergence of this nouveau riche changed the face of English football as the two clubs short cut their way to success (as did Blackburn).

The establishment of course did not like this and one suspects that these upstarts (add PSG to the mix) are the ones responsible for the birth of FFP rather than the clubs that imploded such as Fiorentina, Leeds United and Glasgow Rangers.

The irony being Chelsea would have almost certainly joined that list had Abramovich not appeared on the scene.

The point to all this is that whilst the Premiership appears as a highly competitive league with frequent close title races, the reality is that in the absence of what many call 'financial doping' and with Arsenal distracted by building the Emirates, we may have faced a United procession for several seasons now.

All of this of course has been played out at a time when the overall quality in the Premiership looks to be on the decline with arguably its' best players being cherry picked by either Real or Madrid several times over, Ronaldo, Bale and Suarez have all headed South.

Manchester United supposedly dropped their interest in Toni Kroos or so we are told. Here is a team with almost limitless resources (we are again told) in desperate need of a top quality midfield general of which a stand out performer (and World Cup winning one) in that very position is available for around 20M.

Can someone tell me why exactly they dropped their interest?

One could of course come to the conclusion that Kroos' agent told United that he didn't fancy the Britannia on Wednesday night in January and fancied hooking up with Bale and Ronaldo with a bit of Champions League action thrown in.

United are a huge draw and arguably the biggest club in the world, but it appears that the likes of Ronaldo, Bale and Kroos prefer Madrid and the weather can only be part of that equation.

Where the Premiership does trump La Liga soundly is in the incredible marketing of its' product and in its' massive advantage in Asia of the English language.

Throw in Spanish stubbornness on kick off times and you have a huge TV audience paying handsomely to tune in to see Danny Wellbeck instead of Neymar with revenues far outweighing the paying audiences in the Americas.

Real and Barca of course compensate for this disparity in television revenues by creating their own imbalance by taking the lions' share of Spain's media revenues.

A more equitable split would ensure a more competitive league by bringing up the rest and hampering the big two's ability to hoard the world's very best. Or would it?

Spain's Europa League results and the success of Atletico in the Champions League last year would indicate that the quality of team on offer in La Liga is anything but inferior, just ask Chelsea who were seen off by Atletico and have looked to dismantle them for their own benefit this Summer.

Is it just that the big two in Spain in these days of globalisation are simply too hot to handle for the Premiership? It is of course not United's fault that they have Mancunian weather and not that of Madrid or Catalonia.

Spain's big two have for the most always been dominant domestically and have regularly employed the world's best, Di Stefano, Puskas, Maradona, Michael Laudrup, Romario, (the real) Ronaldo, Zidane, the list is too long to even contemplate.

They and Spain however had endured a seriously lean period in the previously known European Cup. After Real won it in '66 it would be another 26 years before Spain triumphed again when Barcelona won their first title. In that period, a single Spanish team (Barcelona) only once even made the final.

During that period, there was a huge English dominance preceded by periods of both Dutch and German lordship. Heysel ended the English period as Serie A became the dominant league accompanied by the rise of one of the great AC Milan teams.

All of this proves that football moves in cycles of course and even in the face of rising globalisation that should always be the case.

The Bundesliga is not often mentioned when discussing which country has the best league yet it boasts economically viable clubs. Full, vibrant and modern stadia and a league that can boast no less than five separate winners in the past eleven seasons.

Yet, other than Bayern and the odd season from Dortmund, progress in European terms has proven tough for the German clubs.

The fact that Bayern have been able to take so simply both Mario Gotze and Lewandowski from its' closest rivals in the past two seasons also renders the competition poorer.

Again however you could point to the same happening in England where Arsenal have lost several high profile players to both the Manchester clubs. Most Spanish clubs are also rendered impotent when Real or Barca come knocking.

None of which really helps us decide on whether Gareth Bale is right or wrong.

For the time being, nothing looks to be able to stop Barca and Real collecting the world's very best players. The Premiership in turn will continue to pay huge salaries and transfer fees sometimes indiscriminately - are Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana really worth a combined 55M?

This season's La Liga looks to be almost certainly a two horse race whereas whilst both Chelsea and City look very strong in the Premiership, Liverpool, Arsenal and possibly even a resurgent Man Utd will wish to have a strong say in matters.

The Premiership may have the greater overall marketing glitz and saturation television coverage but one thing is for sure, record numbers will be turning in for El Classico this season - No Nonsense.