Analysis Opinion Insight

Friday, September 5, 2014

Saving England from the Scribes

Fleet Street's impact on the Three Lions 

After what was deemed to be a "poor performance" against Norway, ( Ironically, they did win 1-0 with a bunch of kids, in what was an otherwise meaningless friendly) has got the British broadsheets and tabloids bemoaning the recent performances of the players, the results at the world cup, the talent of the manager and the relatively low percentage of English players playing in the Premier League. Fans are apathetic, even those that prepaid for tickets didn't turn up. Any hope that the national side will end what will be 50 years of trophy-less tournament participation in France in 2016 is very low if not non-existent and with performances not entertaining; fans, pundits and journos alike are impatient for improvement and are eager to see change.

Consider this speech from one Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix and apply it to football.  

"The Ministry of Magic (Football Association) has always considered the education of young witches and wizards (Footballers) to be of vital importance.The rare gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not nurtured and honed by careful instruction. The ancient skills unique to the wizarding (football) community  must be passed down the generations lest we lose them for ever. The treasure trove of magical (football) knowledge amassed by our ancestors must be guarded, replenished and polished by those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching.Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts (coaches, managers & administrators at the FA/St George's Park) has brought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school (organization), and that is as it should be, for without progress there will be stagnation and decay. There again, progress for progress's sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence and change, between tradition and innovation because some changes will be for the better, while others will come, in the fullness of time, to be recognized as errors of judgement. Meanwhile, some old habits will be retained, and rightly so, whereas others, outmoded and outworn, must be abandoned. Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited." 

It's not that the English journalists want to see the side or the manager fail, it's just that, for me, they don't ask the right questions of the FA or the manager. Instead of "can we win the world cup in (insert tournament year) " they should be asking, "how can we set up the football system to win the world cup in ..." It's how you can get the FA to get rid of the MBA/CA/Lawyers out of the upper echelons of the football side of the organization. the Media should also be pressuring ex-football players, both men and women to get into football admin like in other countries. People like Sol Campbell, David Seaman, Tony Adams, Paul Ince, Paul Scholes, Gary Linekar, Butcher, Paul Parker, Ray Wilkins, should be involved in the planning and football side of the national administrative body, and should be the ones coming up with football development plans.

On the short term front, after a game for instance,  instead of asking what did you think of the game tonight Roy, it should be, "what were you trying to achieve and did you achieve it Roy?" 

it's all well and good hounding the manager/players about the lack of attractive football and blowing supposedly poor sides away with pass and move, flowing football and scoring 4 goals a game to make decent headlines, but if they really care about progress, they should be asking what exactly the manager is trying to do and whether or not the players carried out those instructions/plans; that's what really matters.

With  upcoming games against minnows that England should be winning  comfortably, the expectation game is almost unwinnable, with a solid 2 or 3 nil victory the minimum acceptable outcome, and if they do go to score 5 or more unanswered goals, the level of the opposition will be used to discount their achievements. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Manchester United Shirt Sponsorship

It was not that long ago, relatively recently in the greater history of football, that Soccer Clubs started getting money from apparel manufacturers for the privilege of using their club's crest on replica match shirts, shorts, socks, caps, scarves, beanies and a whole host of other items. It's hardly believable that there was a time when Clubs would have to pay a company to print them a few shirts, to put their own crest on a simple shirt or socks. We've come a long way in a very short period of time.
Danny Welbeck in the last
of Nike's United Shirts

In the Premier League era, Manchester United shirts have been sponsored by Adidas( who had sponsored us throughout the 1980s), then Umbro (now owned by Nike) most noted for the 1998/9 treble shirt, and most recently Nike who've sponsored United for the last 12 years, with one final season of shirt sponsorship concluding next June. For that privilege, Nike paid a mammoth $519 million USD. Given Nike make $28 billion USD in the last financial year, up from $9.89 billion USD in 2002, one can argue that its been a great investment.  With news that Adidas are lining up to pay $128mil a year for 10 years to sell United branded shirts to the world,  I believe that United are making the easy, safe choice by accepting a deal with Adidas, who have deals with Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, AC Milan and a whole host of other clubs. I'd rather United take a bolder move and create a unique deal with a relative small player in football apparel, Under Armour.  
 With the club crest and
a better Chevrolet badge,
this could become a classic shirt

I know that Under Armour is a much smaller company when compared to Adidas, but strategically,  UnderArmour would grow massively if they agreed to sponsor us, back end the deal and increase payment amounts over the length of the contract, start off with $70m a year and growing by 10mil a year for 12 years (totaling about $1.5bil). I think it would give UA a massive boost in their market share and worldwide reach, really "putting them on the map" in Asia and in the football world, as their first global club, we could demand much more than Spurs and would allow United to differential themselves from the other major clubs who are either Nike or Adidas clubs. With a relatively large market share in the US retail and sports industries and a growing global reputation for quality goods, as well as a savvy product placement team that has seen Under Armour featured in movies & multiple TV shows (prominent on Friday Night Lights and seen in multiple scenes of Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D, as well as Batman:The Dark Knight Rises, Multiple Marvel Movies, Lone Survivor, Fast & Furious 6 etc.)  

Just think it would be a great move for both parties, United can really show themselves to be above the Nike v Adidas petty rivalry and be in a class of their own. Additionally, a deal with a relative outsider to the football world can help United secure image rights related commercial deals for their players when they get them to do ads for club sponsors which don't put individual player sponsors' noses out of whack. So Rooney(whose contract specifically includes a clause related to earnings from commercial promotional actities run by the club), RvP, Kagawa, Mata, Shaw and Herrera and who-ever else has image rights deals, can get decent money from a deal which reduces MUFC's wage bill growth while keeping them competitive in the transfer marketplace and  remain an attractive employer while keeping their wage bill to turnover ratio below 50%.  

An interesting idea that the club might be contemplating in regards to the United merchandising business from the  telegraph.
Interesting piece on football kit culture by John Devlin here

Thanks to the Pride of Manchester for having an awesome website with so much information. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sir Alex's biggest influence

The rapid decline in fortunes suffered by Manchester United this season has got many pundits, fans and hopefully the players wondering where it has all gone wrong. Multiple factors have been analysed by fans and ABUs alike, with many holding Mr Moyes solely responsible for the poor results and lack luster performances. The attitude and performance of the players has been scrutinized, the transfer dealings during the European summer and MrWoodward's part in them, the pre-game and in-game tactics and strategies employed by Mr Moyes  and his decision to replace the coaching staff with those of his own choosing, have all been found to be lacking in comparison to the expected quality.

Obviously the poor results and performances are a result of all the above factors as well as the simple fact that between the injuries, and the general decline in pace and acceleration that comes with age, the players we relied upon to win the league last season are no longer up to that herculean a task. No doubt, there are some things Mr Moyes has not got right. At times, his natural tactical instinct runs in contrast to what is expected of his United side by fans, as most fans would rather win 4-2 than 1-0, and his predilection for using wingers and playing through the flanks, though very much a United tradition, is seen by many to be a fruitless exercise as the wingers currently employed by the club are not performing as expected.

Although there are some tactical errors being made by the manager, I think the players have got to take more responsibility for their performances and the collective output that has led to the results.

Comments like these only scratch the surface on what I believe is the problem.

I think the problem is more mental than tactical, especially in terms of winning attitude and spirit.

Coaches like Sir Alex and Jose Mourinho get their players to play "for them", and manage to replace the internal determination and drive for success with a yearning for approval from "the boss". For so long, our squad of players have been mentally conditioned to perform for the boss, and I believe that such a drive is based on a fear of failure and punishment, rather than an urge to please or satisfy. (call it pop psychology, but i think it might be at play in this situation). Just as Jose Mourinho's old sides always seem to take time to re-build, i think Sir Alex has had an even greater effect on the mental fortitude of his players. England's failure to perform in the last few tournaments can also be partially attributed to the influence Ferguson and Mourinho have had on England's leading players, with Rooney, Lampard, Cole, Terry, Ferdinand, Cleverley, Carrick, Jones, Cahill, Smalling and Welbeck all performing well but never to the level their club fans have enjoyed.

Changing the manager relatively abruptly, without a corresponding change in the playing squad, has left Moyes with a bunch of players who seem to be playing without a purpose. On the other side of the touch-line, Moyes also looks like he doesn't know what to do or say to motivate his players to play to their previously showcased capabilities.  At Everton Moyes had only ever worked with what football journalists love to call the "honest pro", professionals who get the job done for the sake of the work, who are playing to extend their contracts and work towards personal goals, like getting a pay raise, earning an international cap or a move to a bigger club. It's therefore not hard to motivate players in these frames of mind.  But motivating players to perform at their peak when they have either won everything there is to win in the game, or think they've "made it" in football isn't the easiest of jobs. Doing what Sir Alex has done, for so long, is a truly remarkable feat, but if Moyes is to be a success, he to must learn that art.

If Moyes is to become such a mentally influential manager, and personally I think he must firstly get rid of the players who are no longer good enough for Manchester United's lofty ambitions. For me, this includes Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Giggs and potentially RvP, whose on field attitude since the managerial change doesn't merit his high salary and position as 1st choice striker.

Making his own mark on the squad as soon as he can will increase his power over the club, which will only improve his influence over the players on-field performance. I think it's the first step that he needs to take to get the United empire back to its position of power.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Being a fan

The Telegraph, Daily Mail, Guardian and Mirror are all running opinion/news pieces with varying nuances on the theme that Sir Alex's mere presence in the director's box is a distraction/ is applying pressure on the current manager. 

All the articles saying that Moyes is being haunted by SAF are self indulgent pieces of non-sense. The British print media love going on small power trips just to see how much influence they have at various clubs, via fan associations, the board or the chairman.  Having gotten rid of Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello from the England management position, they have, in my opinion, targeted certain managers (Villas- Boas comes to mind) relentlessly. After having their power checked by the FA, when their favourite candidate Redknapp was overlooked in favour of "dour, unimaginative, charisma-less" Hodgson, the ultimate success would be to hound Moyes out of the Manchester United job
I've seen first hand what influence such journalists such as Mark Ogden, Martin Samuel and Ollie Holt have, with various friends sharing their articles and espousing those stated opinions as their own.  With 20 plus years of success, the younger generation of United fans have grown up believing that United have always been winners. Having read about the history of the club and its fallow years in the mid 20th century, I've come to place Sir Alex's tenure in its proper context and am more appreciative of the success we've enjoyed in the last 20 years. 
So disregard the papers for a few months and keep your own counsel; enjoy the spectacle of seeing the new manager adapt to the club and make changes as he sees fit. If nothing else, trust in the fact that Sir Alex recommended him, Sir Bob agreed and that David Gill and the Glazers also thought Moyes to be the right man for the job.   

They claim to be telling the fans what they want to hear, and are reflecting public opinion, but are in fact leading and directing public opinion, say if Mark Ogden were to say SAF is not a factor and that anyone following his tenure needs time, money and patience, instead of piling on with the rest of the papers in calling SAF unwanted distraction, the fans wouldn't be so quick to call for Moyes' head, given how highly he is usually regarded in regards to his knowledge and contacts at the club. 

I've learnt a lot from fans of other clubs, who've learnt to appreciate good performances and be entertained, without being too caught up with long term results and expectations of trophies. Given the size and stature of the club, it's right for us United fans to expect that the club should remain competitive in all 3 domestic competitions while remaining a contender in the Champions League knock-out stages. But we must realize we can't have it our way all the time, that a new manager needs time to get his coaches working efficiently with the players, to get the players playing in his preferred style, to get the style to work and to get his systems in place to get everything else working properly, such as scouting and squad management.

 So disregard the papers for a few months and keep your own counsel; enjoy the spectacle of seeing the new manager adapt to the club and make changes as he sees fit. If nothing else, trust in the fact that Sir Alex recommended him, Sir Bob agreed and that David Gill and the Glazers also thought Moyes to be the right man for the job. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Maturation and Stagnation

With the season competitively done and dusted with Sir Alex Ferguson's side securing the title with 4 games to spare, many fans' mind's have turned to summer mode. Following in the the great manager's lead, United fans across the globe have taken time to assess the side's performance over the previous 51 games of the season, which saw the side reach the FA Cup Quarter final stage, the 4th round of the Capital One Cup, the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League and a 20th Premier League title.

Carrick and Van Persie combined for some very productive football, with Kagawa finding space, time and form in between the lines supporting RvP.  
This season's stand out performs were without a doubt Michael Carrick, Robin van Persie and Patrice Evra, with notable mentions to De Gea, Ferdinand, Evans,  Rafael and Rooney. In contrast, the form, fitness and fortunes of Vidic, Young, Valencia, Nani and Anderson have concerned professional onlookers and supporters alike. The fact that the wingers have had such below average, underwhelming seasons is a cause for concern, not just due to our subsequent reliance on central creativity to score goals- but because their poor performance has also decreased the goal scoring threat of Welbeck, Hernandez and Rooney, who prefer chances being created for them from wide positions over intricate or direct passes from central positions, a style which Carrick, Kagawa, Cleverley and van Persie all enjoyed playing and proved fruitful and effective. 

Could all four of these red devils be on their way out?
As such, improvements need to be made, with Anderson, Nani, Hernandez and Rooney all being touted in the media for moves away from the club, with various players being linked to big money moves to United. With Nani, Anderson and Rooney having all served more than 7 years at the club, there is talk that, given their individual form, fitness, lifestyle and potential, it may be time to build from a position of strength and "trim the fat" from the squad by selling under performing players and replacing them with some  proven performers such as Gareth Bale, Kevin Strooman,  Lewandowski, Falcao, the out of contract Frank Lampard as well as up and coming talented youngsters like James Rodriguez, James McCarthy, Cristian Erikson  and Victor Wanyama.   The big deal that has been rumoured for a long time though, is the potential return of our former player Ronaldo.  

3 to leave and 1 to return?
With many United fans hoping to see  him back, I'm sure that most wouldn't mind seeing a deal struck that brought Ronaldo back to United with one or two players + cash going the other way, even if it were to mean the loss of Hernandez or others. Personally, I don't think United will get such a deal done, as Madrid are more likely to want a straight cash deal, not wanting to force players on a new manager (with Mourinho showing not too subtle signs that he'd like to leave), and United, unless they secure the cooperation of a principle sponsor such as Nike, AON or Chevrolet, are unlikely to want to spend all their transfer budget on a luxury player in a section of the squad that is already full, unless they plan on selling 1 or more winger and a striker, given the special position Ronaldo likes to play. (Such an arguement can also be made for the signing of Bale- where would Sir Alex (or someone new) play him? )

I'd add Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia to the aforementioned sell list, with the aim of generating enough cash to fund the purchase of a few younger talented wingers. No doubt the members on my sell list  are talented players, but I fear that in aiming to gain consistency and defensive tactical responsibility, they have eroded their strengths. While Anderson and Nani secured big money moves to United after showing signs of immense talent at an early age, Valencia and Young earned their moves my frequently showing skills that directly attributed to goals for Wigan and Villa, with both of them becoming a reliable source of goals in their final seasons at their respective clubs. 
Valencia's burst of pace that took him away from midfielders and past flat footed defenders to either shoot or cross, a move that set up a large proportion of Rooney's goals in the past, though it now seems that he either doesn't trust his body to be able to do make those runs, with it now more likely to see him dither around the 20 yard line waiting for Rafael to catch up and provide a safe passing option than dart into the box and attempt a shot or a dangerous cross across the face of goal for an arriving striker. The evolution of his game has seen him become much more aware of his defensive responsibilities and his tactical positioning when the side don't have the ball. In my opinion, this facet of his game is what is keeping him in the side ahead of Nani and Young, who are more attacking players, but aren't as much help to Rafael. Ashley Young as an inside out winger, has been worked out and his threat has been blunted by defenders who know to show him to the left corner, from where they can pressure him off the ball, intercept a backwards pass to Evra or cut out a left foot cross that he eventually delivers. Being most dangerous on the reverse diagonal run/dribble/cross/shot, he is in effect attempting to overcome potentially 4 players to have a clear sight of goal, and to be honest, he is no Messi. 

Whether through injury or lack of form, all 4 of them have not matured into the players fans had hoped, with inconsistent moments of brilliance book-ended with frustrating periods of mediocrity and wastefulness. There is only so far a hard working player with limited talent can go, and having bought Valencia and Young, players how sustained form above their base level of talent for multiple seasons, it could be argued that reversion to the mean was always going to happen. Even those blessed with extraordinary talent must possess the mental capabilities to make use of it. Nani and Anderson fall into this category, with neither player able to consistently deliver performances that allow them to command a starting position. 

Yes, the United hierarchy could go on with these players, challenge for league titles off the brilliance of the central midfielders and striking talent and hope that another upturn in form from these 4 could propel United to a Champions' League title ( given that Nani and Anderson played small but crucial roles in in the 2008 victory), but it would be a big risk not to move for other players who may possess the necessary combination of talent and aptitude to surpass their exploits. The likes of Zaha, Januzaj and Tunnicliffe need to be given time to prove themselves either way, for there is no point limiting their exposure to the big league by keeping them in the reserves, then becoming annoyed when they prove a hit elsewhere.