Sunday, 14 August 2011

Sussex - You've Never Had It So Good

The Football Front’s Matt Bruce takes a look at Sussex, and the recent growth and development of the Sussex’s clubs.

It's a good time for professional football in Sussex right now, Brighton appear to be going from strength to strength at their new Amex Stadium. While Crawley begin their first season in the Football League and are even favourites for promotion. Both clubs have been through significant and well-publicised difficulties over the years, but the Sussex clubs now appear to be on the up and there is little doubt that all eyes are focused on Sussex this season.

It's been a long journey for Brighton. They were evicted from the Goldstone Ground in 1997. Since then, supporters have had to endure a period of exile in Gillingham and the utterly soul-destroying experience of watching their football from the wrong side of a running track at the Withdean. After enduring 14 years of struggle, it's as if the club is now awakening from a long sleep, with promotion back to the Championship coinciding with the move to the new, £105 million stadium. Brighton's average attendance at the Withdean was below 6000. But for their first season in their shiny new home, the stadium will be full to its 20,000+ capacity every week, with season ticket sales going through the roof.

The man responsible for this south coast renaissance is professional gambler, Tony Bloom. He is the third generation of his family to be involved in the club (both his uncle and grandfather have previously been on the board at Brighton) and the sheer scale of his investment – 'injecting' £80million when he took over – suggests he is less a businessman investor, more a supporter and benefactor. In funding the construction of the Amex he has not simply built another identikit modern stadium, but has created the much-needed new home for the club and its supporters, which for so long the club has lacked.

But it is not simply off the field where Brighton have made great strides. Manager Gus Poyet guided the Seagulls to the League One title at a canter last season, sealing promotion to the championship in mid-April. They begin their first campaign in the Championship as quite highly fancied to follow in the footsteps of Norwich in winning a second consecutive promotion to reach the Premier League. This summer Poyet has added to his title-winning squad by spending some serious money. The club smashed Brighton's previous record transfer fee by paying out £2.5million for Peterborough striker Craig Mackail-Smith and spending a total amount of £4million on transfer fees alone over the summer. For a club who have traditionally been cash-strapped, this is megabucks.

Inevitably, all eyes were on Brighton last weekend. They opened their new stadium on the opening day of the season against Doncaster Rovers –ironically, they were also Albion's final opponents at the Goldstone Ground in 1997. Brighton certainly didn't disappoint. The players arrived on the pitch to a sea of white and blue flags waving from three sides of the ground, but Doncaster came to spoil the party and took advantage of Brighton's nervousness by taking the lead in the 39th minute. Brighton appeared edgy for much of the match and were uncharacteristically uncomfortable in possession, but they did enough to win the game. However, they left it late. The equalising goal came in the 83rd minute as debutant Will Buckley's beautiful strike found its way through the bodies in the area and into the bottom corner. While the winning goal came deep into injury time and it was Buckley again who, with practically the last kick of the game, broke free and slotted past the Doncaster goalkeeper.

Now the club have their first win in their new stadium, everything is surely in place for the club to step up to the next level. With the scale of investment in the club, along with the level of support that has emerged locally, it may not be long before Brighton are playing top-flight football for the first time since 1983.

Moving northwards, Crawley Town are another Sussex club that is making waves at the moment. Like Brighton, they've been through their fair share of trouble off the field and have become quite familiar with winding up orders and points deductions. Even as recently as February 2010 the club found themselves in court to fend off a winding up petition from HMRC. However, following the takeover of the club by millionaire and lifelong fan, Bruce Winfield - backed by some extremely wealthy mystery financiers - the club paid off its sizeable debts over the summer of 2010 and began a spending spree never seen before in non-league football.

Crawley signed Matt Tubbs (£70,000), Sergio Torres (£100,000), Richard Brodie (£150,000) and a host of others as manager Steve Evans set about creating a league-winning side for 'Project Promotion'. Crawley's big-spending ways led them to be dubbed 'the Manchester City of non-league' by their detractors, but their incredible FA Cup run, which culminated in a trip to Old Trafford to play the other Manchester side, more than paid for the previous summer's spending. Crawley's expensively-assembled squad delivered in style as they coasted to the Conference title a week before their Sussex neighbours were confirmed as League One champions.

Crawley money still hasn't dried up. In fact, they have added more quality to their side, bringing in Wes Thomas, Tyrone Barnett and John Akinde. It comes as no surprise that Crawley start the season as favourites once again for the title. Of course, a late Port Vale equaliser denied them an opening day victory. But a point away at Vale is a very solid start to the season and something positive to build on.

Similar to the Brighton scenario, Winfield's interest in the club was not concerned with monetary gain, he just wanted to see his local club play in the Football League. Tragically, Bruce Winfield did not live to see Crawley kick off for the first time in the Football League last weekend. Just weeks before Crawley sealed their promotion Winfield succumbed to cancer. Without him, Crawley would not have made it into the Football League and their incredible rise from the depths is his legacy to his hometown club.

The legacy left by Winfield is far more than just a team that has had a year of success. Crawley's success has led to a major rise in attendances, with last season's average being more than double that of the previous year and season ticket sales have more than quadrupled for this season. As well as a solid local backing, the club is improving facilities and infrastructure enables Crawley to sustain their Football League status in the long long-term. The club are even creating a new seating stand bringing the seated capacity up to the 2000 seats. This is something which is required for League One.

In little over a year Crawley Town have been transformed from a poorly-supported non-league team, who were constantly beset by financial problems to favourites for promotion to League One – a position which, if achieved, would have been unthinkable to Crawley supporters not so long ago. Despite lacking the fairytale magic of Brighton's rise to prominence, Crawley's ascent is no less remarkable and with the financial backing they have, along with the incredible momentum from their Conference-winning season, Crawley look a very good bet to win another promotion in their debut Football League season.

A special mention should also go to Lewes FC of the Conference South, who are yet another Sussex club with a chequered past. Having spent years struggling just to stay in existence, they have made the unique decision to opt for community ownership. Under this model, the club is wholly owned by its members and with annual membership costing just £30, club ownership is essentially open to all. Those responsible for instituting this unique community share scheme should be applauded for literally giving the club back to the local people of Lewes. In the year that has followed since the scheme was announced, the club has made significant moves towards engaging with the community, through various events and offers. Many non-league clubs are facing a real struggle in these uncertain times to bring in the fans and stay solvent, a move to community ownership, has raised more than £100,000 at Lewes and increased attendances. It could possibly be the way forward.

Whether reaching for the heights of the Premier League, or beginning their new life as a Football League club, or even creating a new, community-focused blueprint for running a non-league club. Football in Sussex is healthier than it has been for a very long time. The county's football clubs have suffered an unusual amount of hardship.

But now Sussex clubs at all levels of the ladder are leading the way as some of the most progressive and forward-thinking Football clubs in English football at the moment.

This piece was written by Matt Bruce, you can follow him on his Twitter - @tbfuth, You can find Matt’s blog here too: theboysfromupthehill

Things you may like to read

Matt Bruce’s npower League two preview – Part two

The 4-3-3 it’s successes and failings

What is the true price of success?

Friday, 12 August 2011

4-3-3 - it's Successes and Failings

The Football Front’s tactical expert Itsaballnotabomb evaluates the 4-3-3 system and its strengths and weaknesses.

The 4-3-3 has shot to fame recently. It was made famous by the Dutch sides of the 70’s and is synonymous with Total football, which was created in that period.

For a 4-3-3 to be effective each player must control his zone. Zonal marking is used for all positions, as it makes it easier to press effectively. The only time zonal marking isn’t used is when the ball is about to be put in the box, at this point the marking switches to man marking for obvious reasons.

There are many ways in which a 4-3-3 can be used because of its flexibility. Some sides such as Bolton under Sam Allardyce used it as a counter-attacking formation. The back 4 generally would stay back while the wingers would try to play off the target man striker, normally Kevin Davies. The wingers would also provide service to the target man through crosses. The wingers though would play more like wide midfielders and would happily track back into their own half, much like Mourinho’s Chelsea.

Another way it can be used is in a very attacking sense. Here, the wingers would normally stay forward with the striker. All 3 midfielders may also have the license to make forward runs and try and support the attacking trio. If the wingers are pushing more centrally, or playing as inverted forwards, this will often mean that the full backs will push high up the pitch and become wingers themselves. A great example of this is Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo last season, Marcelo's runs forward allowed Ronaldo to cut in on his right foot to great effect for Real Madrid.

With the front three it also makes pressing high up the pitch easier than with a 4-4-2 formation, purely because the 4-3-3 formation is naturally further forward than a 4-4-2. A great example of pressing is the Dutch side in the 1974 World Cup, although this would be hard to recreate now due to the change of the offside law. When pressing, the side will try to force the team inside as this is where the 4-3-3 has a numerical advantage; it will also stop a long ball straight up one of the flanks which can be potentially devastating as the full back can get out numbered if the midfield is not quick enough to cover.

At all times in the 4-3-3 one of the midfielders will sit in front of the defence to form a defensive triangle and a midfield triangle. Defensively this is a very solid formation and can be hard to break down as each position is well covered by another player. The midfield diamond also allows a side to keep possession easily, especially if there is a numerical advantage in midfield. A great example of this in recent times is Barcelona. The midfield switches positions and rotates, constantly making space for a pass, Messi also joins in from his traditional striking position and adds another man to the midfield, making it even easier to maintain possession. This is especially effective against teams who play two in the middle. (see diagram above.)

A weakness of the 4-3-3 is the demands that it puts on the side. If a side is not well drilled it can be easily picked apart, especially if the pressing is poor. The flanks can also be easily exposed by a cross field ball as it can leave a 2 on 1 situation with the fullback and opposition winger. But this can be reduced if the winger is prepared to track back and follow the full back. But the flip side of this is that it can make the striker isolated.

The striker in this formation has a very demanding role as well. Not only has he got the responsibility of scoring goals but the striker also needs to be able to hold the ball up. The striker also needs the technical proficiency to drop into the midfield and then have the ability to pick a pass. More crucially, if the centre forward does not link the midfield with the attack the side can become predictable and very easy to defend against. Arsene Wenger found this out a couple of seasons ago when Robin Van Persie got injured. A good number 10 needs to have all the attributes needed to play up front in a 4-3-3. Unfortunately for Wenger he had no replacement for the striker and Arsenal's goal scoring and form dipped considerably.

All in all, the 4-3-3 can be a very attacking or defensive formation and its flexibility is one of the reasons why it's gaining more popularity in recent times. However, the high demands on the players and the technical ability needed, can often mean that lesser sides struggle to get success from the 4-3-3.

This article was written by Itsaballnotabomb, you can follow him on Twitter at - @ballnotabomb

You can find more of his work on his blog –

Things you may like to read

4-4-2- its failings and it's former successes

The Contemporary 4-2-3-1 and its modern popularity

England’s new 4-3-3 system, the platform for English success? – Part Two

Premier League Predictions - Week 1

The Premier League is back! The new season, comes with another Football Front prediction challenge. This week our predictors are Zarif Rasul of Football Fancast and Ritesh from the False 9.

So let’s kick the new season off.


Ibby Akkas prediction

Zarif Rasul prediction

Ritesh prediction

Actual Score

Blackburn v Wolves





Fulham v Aston Villa





Liverpool v Sunderland





QPR v Bolton





Wigan v Norwich





Newcastle v Arsenal





Stoke v Chelsea





West Brom v Man United





Man City v Swansea





Total Correct Scores

Total correct scores - 3

Total perfect scores - 4

Total correct scores - 4

Total perfect scores - 0

Total correct scores - 4

Total perfect scores - 0

The Results

Ibby Akkas - 15 points

Zarif Rasul - 4 Points

Ritesh - 4 points

Points System

Perfect Result = 3 points

Correct Result = 1 Point

You can follow Zarif on Twitter: @zarifrasul , You can also find his work on Football Fancast too:

Be sure to take a look at the brilliant False 9 website: and False 9 can be found on Twitter too: @TheFalse_9

Things you may like to read

Kevin Leonard’s Premier League 2011/12 Preview

Defoe or not to Defoe

How Manchester City are getting away with Uefa’s FFP rules

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Kevin Leonard's Premier League preview - 2010/11

The Football Front’s senior writer, Kevin Leonard, gives us a preview of the Premier League, ahead of its big kick off this weekend.

Ladies and gentleman, it is back. The Premier League is back! The 20 best teams in the country (or the 19 best this season with one from Wales) all playing each other over 9 months of grueling passion, misery, suspense, ecstasy and excitement. It’s brilliant to have it back.

Naturally we all want to know exactly what will happen, who will finish where and ultimately who is going to be champions. This is why I am here, to give you the answers you so richly crave.

Let's start with addressing everyone’s favourite part of the Premier League, who is going down!

Relegation candidates (20th – 15th):

Other than Wigan’s first season in the Premier League they have never finished in the top half. The last two campaigns have finished with the Latics in 16th and spending most of the season flirting with relegation. Having just sold Charles N’Zogbia to Aston Villa, one would think they will be in danger again.

Blackburn, we were led to believe have a coup of wealth at their disposal. Yet after selling Phil Jones to Manchester United their only arrivals so far have been David Goodwille and Myles Anderson. The later is a 20 year old defender whom Blackburn recruited from Leyton Orient on a free transfer. Based on this, unless some more talent is added to the ranks, even the most optimistic of fans could not see anything but relegation contention again this season. These two blue and white clubs, in my humble yet questionable opinion, I expect to drift from the rest and make up the base of the Premier league table.

Above them, in what we hope is an exciting fight to avoid the third relegation spot are a cluster of teams that could easily finish mid table as well. I would expect Wolves to be in the reckoning given whenever they are in the Premiership that’s where they always are. Survival may be a little more comfortable this season with the addition of Roger Johnson from Birmingham.

Bolton are a side that have been over hyped recently, after allegedly playing “good football” under Owen Coyle. When in actual fact they were third in the table of long balls played last season and still average fairly low possession statistics. For all the compliments they have received under Coyle’s management he did only manage a 14th place finish in 2010/11. They could be one of the surprise strugglers indeed.

Norwich and QPR both who have just been promoted from the Championship will more than likely struggle and spend most of the campaign from about 20th to 13th. QPR now have the scoring capabilities of “England International” Jay Bothroyd, and with Abdel Taarabt more likely to stay with the London club, one should expect the title winning squad from last season to be good enough to avoid the drop.

Norwich however do not have a playmaker like Taarabt and they also do not have the available funds QPR will have in January should things look ominous. They do have a very well educated manager in Paul Lambert who earned his coaching qualifications in Germany. Which should make him a little more competent tactically than the likes of Ian Holloway. Whilst I can’t see the Canaries looking doomed early on, I can see happening in May.

Mid table (14th -9th):

Given Newcastle’s love for repeatedly pushing the self destruct button it has hard to see top half success for them this season. Twitter rants from Joey Barton and Josè Enrique show that the club is once again in turmoil. The free sale of Barton is pending on any club simply making an offer, Enrique is expected to leave soon after. Not to forget Kevin Nolan has already been sold to West Ham. The club's highest profile arrival so far has been Demba Ba.

Sunderland were one of the worst teams in the league in the second half of last season. The black cats lost 10 of their final 14 games and looked a hopeless cause without Darren Bent. They will now also be without Danny Welbeck but the arrival of former Man Utd boys John O’Shea and Wes Brown should make them a tough side to score against this season. Without a prolific striker or particularly exciting midfielders, mid table seems were they will end up.

The midlands trio of Aston Villa, Stoke and West Brom are expected to be with Newcastle and Sunderland. Nothing there spells relegation but at the same time nothing suggests a finish in the European spots.

Swansea may be the surprise package of the season. Brendan Rodgers worked under Josè Mourinho at Chelsea and has implicated the tactics of that Chelsea side into his own project with Swansea City. A very well put together 4-3-3 system which resulted in them having the best defence at home in the Championship last season. The fans will play an important role at the Liberty Stadium, as national pride will come into play with Swansea being the first Welsh team to play in the Premiership. The 19 English sides will face a tough test in every one of Swansea’s home games. Away from home they will lose their fair share coming up against quality not experienced before but don’t be surprised to see them comfortably in mid table throughout the season.

Wanted/Unwanted Europa League contention (8th-6th):

Tottenham, Everton and Fulham are just good enough to be ahead of the rest in the midtable positions. Everton have been as quiet as a ninja in the transfer market, they have not brought anyone but they also have not let anybody important go. Arteta, Cahill, Howard, Bilyaletdinov, Beckford and Hetinga are all still present. Whilst they may start off badly as Everton usually do, they always seem to find consistency and finish higher than what we expect them to.

Fulham will come as a surprise to a few people I think. They have a manager who was wrongly dismissed by Spurs back in 2007. An interesting tale of the season may just be him battling with his old employers to pip them to a Europa League spot.

Daniel Levy has been a little over ambitious in the transfer window, making bid for the likes of Juan Mata who is currently captain of a side already in the Champions League. One must wonder why he would trade that in to get to where he already is.

Champions League Contenders (5th-3rd):

Chelsea could disappoint a few people this season. They do have a very good new manager in Andres Villas Boas who won virtually everything with FC Porto last season. Villas Boas’ Porto also became league champions of Portugal without losing a single game. My scepticism comes from a somewhat ageing squad. Drogba, Lampard, Cole, Malouda, Anelka and Terry are all into their 30s now.

Chelsea did finish in second last season but let us not forget last season the champions finished with the lowest points total of any since 1967, to finish second does not suggest they will go onwards and upwards this campaign. The blues did spend a lot of time outside the top 4 during 2010/11 as well. While Liverpool and the Manchester clubs get stronger with the signings they have made, Chelsea remains inactive so far.

On the subject of Liverpool, we may see them even amount a title challenge for a while this season. Ultimately winning the league may be a stretch too far but the reds are shaping into a very impressive outfit.

Luis Suarez is one of the best strikers in the World, not a bad goalkeeper either. He scored goals with Ajax, Uruguay and already in his short Anfield career. Suarez, Carroll and Kuyt up front backed up by Meireles and Gerrard in midfield promises at the very least Liverpool will score a lot of goals this coming season. Those goals should be enough to get them back into the Champions League.

Arsenal are a little difficult to gage, a lot depends on where Nasri and Fabregas are playing come September 1st. Should they stay, we can at least be sure Arsenal will maintain a place in the Champions League. If the Gunners are to have realistic title ambitions, central defenders and goalkeepers must be added. In terms of the goalkeeping issue, they perhaps do not require one to replace Szczesny but they are simply an injury away from having Almunia or Fabianski in goal again.

Arsenal always seem to be just a few players away from being up there with the title contenders but it seems the same story for them as it is for Chelsea. Liverpool and the Manchester Clubs appear to be improving whilst Arsenal remain just good enough to finish higher than Tottenham but not good enough to go onto the next level.

I think this is where we will see the season’s most compelling battle. Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool will eventually come to a situation where it will be any two of these three to finish in the Champions League spots.

The Top (1st & 2nd):

The Previous paragraph of course means, again in my humble opinion, that Manchester City will be challenging for the title. We all knew it had to happen someday, may as well be now! The eventual sale of Tevez will not hinder the big spenders at all if Sergio Aguero plays anything like we know he can. Aguero is a strong striker with pace and excellent finishing that has frightened La Liga defences ever since he arrived in Spain.

The addition of Gael Clichy is a clever one, given his time at Arsenal we know he will deliver excellent crossing from the left hand side. The young Serbian Savic also appears to be a good, slightly dirty, defender based on what I saw live at the Dublin Super Cup.

These players will ensure that Champions League football will not be too much of a strain on the squad. The quality from last season is still great too, the likes of David Silva, Edin Dzeko, Yaya Toure, Vincent Komany, Joe Hart etc should see City at the very least challenge their neighbours for the Premiership crown.

Last but by some opinions least we come to Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson may be a lot of things but one thing he is not is stupid. He knows exactly what Manchester United were last season. He knows that the same points total will not win him the league this coming season. He has wasted no time in replacing Edwin Van Der Sar with David De Gea. Ashley Young is at last at a big club, no disrespect Watford or Aston Villa, and he will finally become the World Class player he has the potential to be.

Rumour has it Manchester United have had their bid for Wesley Sneijder accepted by Inter, should they convince him to sign they will certainly have a replacement for Paul Scholes. A better player in fact Man Utd fans! The speculation over Sneijder and the addition of Young along with the sale of Brown and O’Shea may actually mean United will be an attractive team to watch this season.

Last season they did finish as Champions but aside from their own fans nobody enjoyed watching them. Hopefully at least if they do win the league again we can look at them from a neutral point of view and enjoy it somewhat.

League Prediction:

1) Manchester City

2) Manchester United

3) Liverpool

4) Arsenal

5) Chelsea

6) Fulham

7) Tottenham

8) Everton

9) Swansea

10) West Brom

11) Stoke

12) Aston Villa

13) Sunderland

14) Newcastle

15) QPR

16) Wolves

17) Bolton

18) Norwich

19) Wigan

20) Blackburn

You can follow Kevin on his Twitter - @megatronSTALIN, Kevin regularly writes for Forza Italian Football too.

Things you may like to read

Christian Brown npower Championship 2011/12 preview – Part Two

Matt Bruce’s npower League Two 2011/12 preview – Part Two

What is the true price of success?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The contemporary 4-2-3-1 and its modern popularity

The Football Front’s writer Itsaballnotabomb evaluates the 4-2-3-1.

So over to our tactical expert.

The 4-2-3-1 was reportedly created in Spain by Josep Guardiola’s mentor Juanma Lillo. Lillo created the formation in the early 1990′s for his side at the time, Cultural Leonesa. But even he believes that someone might have created it before die to a variation of a 4-4-2.

The popularity of the formation was seen in the last World Cup where only mad dogs and Englishmen chose not to play the formation. So why has it become so popular? One formation is never inexplicably better than another, the 4-4-2 will not always lose to a 4-3-3. However, formations become fashionable, like any other trail of thought, and so gets played more, even if it does not necessarily fit into a clubs philosophy or playing staff.

One of the positives of a 4-2-3-1 is the defensive cover it provides, especially centrally. This is because the 2 holding midfield players or the double pivot, tend not to go forward as much. Therefore, if the opposition counter attacks, there will still be 5 players back, even if one of the full backs has pushed forward.

Another use of the double pivot is that it prevents the classic number 10 role or the playmaking role just behind the striker. With the two defensive midfielders there, it can be almost impossible for the attacking midfielder to find space and create due to the player being doubled up on.

As with any 2 midfield players though, one is usually more attack minded than the other and there can be a lot of variants in the way in which these two players set up, although one normally has a creative role than the other. For example, Real Madrid last season used the 4-2-3-1 fairly successfully. The Madrid club used Xabi Alonso and either Lassana Diarra or Sami Khedira. Xabi Alonso played as a deep-lying playmaker to great effect, whilst the other player played simple passes but closed down more aggressively and put more tackles in.

The front 4 in the 4-2-3-1 can also provide the side with great flexibility up front. The attacking midfielders can be set up in a narrow formation where essentially all of them play as Trequartistas, the width in this set-up will be provided by the full backs. The formation can also be played with traditional wingers, or with inside forwards who would cut in towards the goal, in this case, the wingers will yet again will have the duty of providing width.

With the 6 defensive players behind them the attacking four have a lot of freedom and may also change positions with each other through-out the match. This can create confusion for the oppositions defence, especially if they use man marking.

As with any formation that has a player behind the striker, there is a lot of pressure on that player to try and create for the other players, especially the striker. If this player plays well, which is more easily done against a 4-4-2 than a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 due to the space between the defence and midfield which I explained here. l, the team will function a lot better. Mezut Ozil has proved himself to be one of the best players in this position because of his great movement off the ball and eye for a defence splitting pass, shown by his performances for Germany and Real Madrid last year.

One problem which often happens with a 4-2-3-1 is that there is not a link between the 6 at the back and the 4 up front. Often the six do not support the attacking players, just leaving them to try and score whilst they leave the six to try and defend. These sides often lack fluidity and the opposition can find it very easy to defend unless the other side counter attacks efficiently.

Another problem that can happen is if the wingers or wide attacking midfield players do not track back. This can lead to a 2 v 1 situation with the full backs which can also happen in a 4-3-3 which I explained here.

Yet again, as with any formation there are positives and negatives. What the coach needs to do, is choose the best formation so that he can contain the side he is playing against and also exploit them. He also needs to pick the best formation for his players and his club. For example, you cannot imagine anyone playing any thing else than 3 in midfield at Barcelona as it does not suit their passing style.

This article was written by Itsaballnotabomb, you can follow him on Twitter at - @ballnotabomb

You can find more of his work on his blog -

Things you may like to read

4-4-2- its failings and it's former successes

Is there a right or wrong way to play football?

England’s new 4-3-3 system, the platform for English success? – Part Two

Monday, 8 August 2011

What is the True Price of Success?

In his début article for The Football Front, Alastair Moncrieff writes a belter on the true price Linkof success in the modern game.

Being a football supporter is by its very nature a divisive pastime. Tribal loyalties separate us from each other. There is one thing that unites all fans though, irrespective of the team they support, be it Manchester United or Accrington Stanley. All football fans share a dream of success. No matter how deeply in the doldrums your club currently resides, there is always a time when you allow your mind to wander, thoughts of administration are cast aside and you imagine your team popping champagne corks on the Wembley turf. It is the same trick of the mind that lets you believe that with just a little more luck you would have ‘made it’, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

“I would give anything for just a taste of success”. We have all uttered words to this effect at some point during our tenure as a football fan. When you’re watching your side of over-paid prima-donnas struggling to string two passes together, with the rain lashing down and the irritating fan that sits next to you having turned his obnoxious dial up to 11, a glimmer of hope would be seem a fair trade for your (footballing) soul.

The thing is, the Devil is out there, and the deal is on the table.

No more mid-table mediocrity, the transfer window will cease to be a time of depressing departures, instead it will be a time of exhilarating arrivals, Tuesday and Wednesday nights will be more Champions League than Carling Cup. The question is though, what is the price tag on these promises?

Manchester City fans are currently basking in the glory of an FA Cup win, along with their entry into the most exclusive of clubs, the Champions League. It is certainly an exciting time if you wear the sky blue. The triumphs of Man City however, are in the eyes of many, tainted. Many of the jibes aimed at City, and their wealthy owners can be attributed to jealousy, however, I wonder, are there some City fans who feel that in amongst all the excitement and celebrations, something is being lost? Is the club they associated themselves with changing beyond all recognition? If so does that lessen your emotional attachment?

Chelsea fans may feel a similar way. The Abramovich reign has brought unprecedented glory to the Bridge, however it must have been galling for those who have stuck with their side through the good times and the bad, to see Ray Wilkins, a man they hold in the highest esteem, discarded so casually by the Russian, and the treatment of a thoroughly decent, and successful, man in Carlo Ancelotti certainly did not cast the club in a positive light. Defenders of Abramovich say it is his club, he paid for it, and can therefore conduct his business in whatever way he sees fit. Now that may be technically correct, but the fear that a football club, steeped in history, is now little more than a plaything for a mysterious oligarch is a very real one.

Reservations about the conduct of whoever runs the club are one thing, what may be more relevant is the lengths clubs are now prepared to go to, to increase that ever important revenue stream. Man City now play at a stadium named after the national airline of the United Arad Emirates, Leicester City play at something called the ‘King Power’ stadium (no I have no idea either and can’t be arsed to google it). They are not alone, while stadiums were previously named after the area in which they were located, and their core support were resident, now they are named after whoever writes the biggest cheque. Protests against such moves have been noticeable but not exactly vociferous, we will learn more about how much fans are willing to accept, in the name of improving the ‘bottom line’, if for example, the new owners of Liverpool decide they have to sell the naming rights of Anfield. Would Liverpool’s fans be aware that times have changed? That they have fallen behind their rivals be enough to over-ride their sense of history?

The drive to maximise a clubs income won’t stop at re-naming the stadium though, how about changing the name of the club itself to incorporate the name of a sponsor? Maybe commercial potential could be increased by changing the teams’ colours? In fact how about re-locating the club somewhere else entirely? The new breed of football club owners are not in it for the love of the game, they are motivated by profits and profits alone. It is up to the fans to decide how much of their traditions they are happy to let slip away in the name of success.

There is a further problem though, this deal that was offered at the start of this blog isn’t as straightforward as it seems. The Devil has played a trick on us all. Now his side of the deal has changed, to sooth the pain of watching the club you hold so dear being stripped of all its integrity (Blackburn Rovers anyone?), guaranteed success is no-longer on the table, it has been replaced by an offer of status quo. As it becomes ever harder just to stand still as a football club, soon enough, our footballing soul will no-longer be sold for success, but mere survival.

It is a heavy price to pay for such a scant return, but it is the inevitable consequence of footballs transformation.

From sport to business.

This article was written by Alastair Moncrieff, you find Alastair’s work on his blog here: .You can also follow him on Twitter too: @allymonc

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Sunday, 7 August 2011

Defoe or not to Defoe?

There is no denying the fact Jermain Defoe had a poor season last year. Four Premier League goals for a striker who has 46 England caps is not an impressive statistic.

Tottenham’s media friendly manager, Harry Redkanpp has clearly stated his intentions in bringing another striker to the club. Perhaps this is a logical move by Redknapp. After all, Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe have all failed to muster a decent goal flow for Tottenham last season.

Between all four Tottenham strikers, they only mustered 19 goals between them. Pavlyuchenko scored 9 of those goals, while Crouch, like Defoe only scored four. With this woeful goal scoring record, all four strikers have been regularly linked with moves away from White Hart Lane this summer.

The name of Jermain Defoe has continuously hit the gossip columns. But the idea of Tottenham selling Jermain Defoe is absurd.

Defoe’s technical abilities along with his style of play make him an incredibly threatening and a unique centre forward.

For starters, Defoe is an explosive player. He is an incredibly strong and fast footballer. His explosive technical capabilities make him test the strongest and most agile centre backs. His decisive dribbling skills make him so unpredictable, thus meaning he is a threat who cannot be allowed space, or he will brutally exploit the opposition.

The opposition, more particularly defenders fear Jermain Defoe. His lethal finishing has been a contributing reason as to why he has earned himself 46 England caps. Over the years, Defoe has proved to be a goal scoring threat from inside and outside the box. In fact, last season, all of his four Premier League goals were scored from outside the box.

Surely this proves Defoe is more than a goal poacher, it emphasises Defoe is a menace in a variety of offensive positions. In the modern game, this is a highly valuable ability. It’s the type of ability which makes Jermain Defoe a game changing player.

History will tell you, teams are willing to push their necks out to sign players who can change games, with a moment of brilliance. Defoe is one of those players. How many times has Defoe changed games and left football fans in awe? Spurs have a player, whom many teams would be happy to facilitate.

Although many teams would love have Defoe in their sides, a reason as to why the Tottenham star had a very poor season was because of his lengthy injury.

Jermain Defoe’s two and half month period on the sidelines, had a real effect on the productivity of the player. Upon his return, Defoe failed to nail a starting position. Perhaps this was due to the great form and understanding between Crouch and Rafa Van der Vaart. But being in and out of the side, effected severely effected Defoe’s match sharpness and form.

The statistics will tell you, Jermain Defoe’s best goal scoring runs occur when the player is a consistent starter for his team. In the 2009/10 – the season when Tottenhm finished fourth. Defoe started 34 games, and scored 18 goals. It was this form which made Defoe a certainty for the South Africa World Cup. It’s abundantly clear, when Defoe is on form, he is one of the best English strikers around.

There aren’t many English strikers like Defoe who have scored 101 Premier League goals or more throughout their career. This is a fantastic record, it symbolises the threat Defoe has consistently carried year in year out. But not only this, the England striker is 28. Defoe still has a lot to offer and his potent threat will not naturally decline, anytime soon.

Indeed, a symbol of Jermain Defoe’s potent threat is the fact he was an England starter prior to his injury. Of course, England possess many talented strikers, but Defoe’s consistent inclusion demonstrates his ability is trusted on the international stage. There are not many England strikers today who can boast this.

Although Jermain Defoe has proved his credentials on the international stage, some argue, he no longer fits into Tottenham’s style. They argue, because of the addition of Van der Vaart, the Dutchmen’s style is better suited for a striker who can win the ball in the air and can hold the ball up. This is something which admittedly Defoe cannot do. Furthermore, with Lennon and Bale on the wings, they are two wingers who predominately cross from the byline, so their service will be nullified as Defoe isn’t the most aerially dominant player.

These comments are all fair and have logic behind them. They also go long way in explaining why Harry Redknapp is in the market for a complete striker. But as Redknapp and most people know, finding a complete striker is hard to come buy and when they are found they cost a lot of money too.

But with Jermain Defoe, Tottenham already have a lethal finisher. Of course, he isn’t a complete striker, but some of skills make him more threatening to certain oppositions. Many top clubs in Europe would happily take Defoe, as there aren’t many clubs who boast the possession of an explosive, clinical and credented goal soccer.

Indeed, if Tottenham do sell Defoe, it would be Spurs’ loss rather than Jermain Defoe’s.
Jermain Defoe has proved time and time again that he can be trusted to consistently hit the back of the net.

Defoe isn’t the problem at Spurs, he is part of the solution.

Things you may like to read

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Friday, 5 August 2011

Matt Bruce’s npower League Two 2011/12 Preview - Part Two

In his debut article for The Football Front, Matt Bruce in a two part feature assesses the npower League Two teams ahead of the big kick off this Saturday.

This is part two. Part one can be found here

For two of the league's smallest clubs, Accrington and Dagenham, the off-season has presented a familiar scenario of having to replace last season's better performers, who have moved to bigger clubs. Accrington, who defied the odds last season to reach the playoffs, have a complete rebuilding job on their hands. They lost the services of Jimmy Ryan, Phil Edwards, Terry Gornell, Alex Cisek and Sean McConville. While relegated last season from League One, Dagenham also find themselves looking for cheap replacements once again after losing Romain Vincelot and Danny Green, both of whom have stayed in the league above, while veteran goalkeeper Tony Roberts has retired. Losing so many important players may seem like a body blow to these two clubs, but in John Coleman and John Still these clubs have shrewd managers who have repeatedly managed to find previously unheard-of players out of non-league or from Academy scraps and turn them into quality, consistent performers. The fortunes of both clubs depend on the ability of their managers to again work miracles and haul up some rough diamonds.

Like Accrington and Dagenham, Macclesfield are often hotly tipped for relegation. Yet every year they exceed expectations and usually survive comfortably and I expect the same this season. They have also lost a couple of important players in Barnett and Bencherif, so their fortunes this season will be defined by how well they can cope without them and whether anyone can step up to replace two important figures, otherwise they may flirt with relegation.

Having mentioned Crawley in part one of this feature, we now come to the Football League's other new boys, AFC Wimbledon. The Dons have lost Danny Kedwell and technically gifted midfielder Steven Gregory. This will leave a huge hole in the squad, and with limited resources they will be relying on making some shrewd signings to replace them. They have targeted young, hungry players with raw talent and if this tactic works as well for them as it has for Dagenham and Accrington they could be quite successful at this level, but as ever it represents a gamble which could cost them their place in the Football League. They have so far known only success, next season will be tough but a well-run club such as this should be absolutely fine.

After a dramatic season that saw Barnet escape relegation to the Conference by the narrowest of margins, it may be reasonable to expect that new manager Lawrie Sanchez would seek to make drastic changes. However, he has clearly seen potential in a squad that underachieved massively last season and this season he will set about nurturing that potential, while the permanent signings of Sam Deering and Mark Byrne (both of whom were on loan late in the season and were instrumental in Barnet's great escape) will no doubt add some flair to their midfield. Like Barnet, Hereford started last season disastrously, but new manager Jamie Pitman was able to steer the Bulls from relegation certainties, to safety. Their squad is not much stronger this season than last time out, but they performed much better under Pitman in the second half of the season and if that continues they should avoid the drop. Cheltenham have good cause to be disappointed with their 17th place finish last season, especially considering the presence of the talented Wes Thomas in their team. This season they will be without him, and manager Mark Yates faces the unenviable task of improving on last year's disappointment with limited resources and apparently no funds for transfers. Despite this, they have pulled off some decent signings, such as Marlon Pack and Darryl Duffy, but it is doubtful that they will be enough to significantly improve the team.

Burton could be in trouble this season. For much of the second half of last season they seemed to be in a death spiral, going on a horrendous run of form that saw them finish worryingly close to the relegation zone. The club still also haven't found adequate replacements for Shaun Harrad or Adam Legzdins. The return of Cleveland Taylor from St Johnstone was one piece of good news for Burton fans. But this summer has proven to be a frustrating one and they will have real fears of relegation. Morecambe also look set to struggle, after a disappointing campaign last season they have replaced the long-serving Sammy McIlroy with rookie manager Jim Bentley and they have failed to attract any real quality to the Globe Arena. Morecambe could find themselves filling one of the relegation spots come the end of the season.

This should set out the obvious candidates for promotion and relegation, but League Two seems to throw up surprise packages every year and undoubtedly this season will be the same. There is every chance that one of the sides I have written off may make a surprising challenge, while there is always at least one of the league's big hitters who fail to live up to the hype. The truth is, until the season gets underway it's very difficult to judge who this season's surprise packages will be, but I have little doubt that some of the clubs in this league will have some very big surprises in store for us this season.

Part One is available here

This piece was written by Matt Bruce, you can follow him on his Twitter - @tbfuth, You can find Matt’s blog here too: theboysfromupthehill

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Matt Bruce’s npower League Two 2011/12 Review – Part One

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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Harvey Burgess' All Star 5 aside Premier League team –Lord of the Rogerings’

For The Football Front's new feature of the ‘5 a side all star Premier League team.’ We have asked fans, bloggers and writers to talk us through their fantasy Premier League five aside teams. The teams can consist of Premier League starts from the past and present

This week’s team is called ‘Lord of the Rogerings’ by Harvey Burgess

Over to you Harvey,

Having played a lot of 5-a-side football myself, I know how many different ways you can set up a team. For my Premier League All Star 5-a-side I am going to use a diamond, which should bring a lot of goals to the side.

Goalkeeper- Pepe Reina (Liverpool)

Reina is, in my opinion, the best goalkeeper around in the Premier League today, and his distribution skills are amongst the best in world football. The main reason I have picked him is because he is so adept with his feet, sometimes acting like an old-fashioned sweeper at the back for Liverpool. He just pips Joe Hart and Petr Cech to make my side.

Defender - David Luiz (Chelsea)

Ferdinand is not a rock at the back like his partner centre-back Nemanja Vidic, but David Luiz plays like a libero, similar to Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling. His ability to bring the ball out of the back is why I have picked him, and he can score some crackers too. He used to play as a holding midfielder, so would be very used to this position, and his pace would be needed in 5-a-side football.

Right-sided midfielder - Carlos Tevez (Man City)

Although being a right –sided midfielder is not his normal position, but Tevez most definitely could fulfill this position. He was one of the leading scorers in the Premier League last season, so is clearly good enough attacking-wise, and he often played as a right-sided forward for Argentina in the Copa America and beforehand. One reason he has been picked is that he never stops running, and he hassles his opponents constantly. This is why he is so popular amongst the Manchester City fans (although maybe not for much longer). Theo Walcott just misses out.

Left-sided midfielder - Michael Essien (Chelsea)

Again I haven’t picked him in the position he plays for Chelsea, but as this is 5-a-side, the players will be constantly swapping positions so that is not much of a problem. Pace and power are two of Essien’s greatest attributes, so to is his ability to score some stunners (remember this one?). He just beats Gareth Bale to this position, mainly due to his tackling skills (and Bale is too attacking in my opinion, even though he used to be a left back).

Striker - Wayne Rooney (Man Utd)

It could only be him, couldn’t it? Out of all the strikers in the Premier League, I think Rooney is the most skilful and he has the ability to make chances for others, an attribute that is very useful in 5-a-side football. You don’t need an old-fashioned centre-forward in 5-a-side, rather a more complete player who can switch positions with ease. Dimitar Berbatov, Rooney’s fellow striker at Man Utd, is the one to miss out here, although he would be very useful with his skilful style of play.

You can follow Harvey on Twitter here: @harveyb1

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Kevin Leonard’s All Star 5 aside Premier League team – The Usual Fullbacks

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