Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

Yes this is a bit late and you’ve already read everyone else’s summation of the Premier League season by now, but time is money, and nobody pays me shit for this. But these are always fun to do and read, to see the opinions of other people and compare notes. So indulge me a little, why don’t you?

It was another thrilling season in England, even though it all came to an end a bit soon and we were left with a fairly non-descript final day of the season, with very little to play for.

Still there were plenty of talking points to come from the season, and in the interest of fairness to every club in the division, I shall be dividing up these awards into one for the top six, and one for the rest of the league. Poor Everton, I honestly had no idea which section to put you in initially. But you end up in the rest for this season.

 

TEAM/MANAGER OF THE SEASON

Top Six – Chelsea/Antonio Conte

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Not a bad start to life in England for Conte

Some might put these as two categories, but I fail to see why you would treat manager and team performance as separate things as they are somewhat co-dependent. Some might have fancied Spurs to edge this award as their ‘success’ was far less expected than that of Chelsea, but Conte’s achievements have been fantastic in his first season in English football.

This was a largely similar squad last season finished down in tenth and was in all sorts of disarray. Conte deserves credit not only for turning around the fortunes of these players, helping them rediscover their form, but realising that changes could and should be made and simply implementing them with little fuss.

He changed English football’s way of thinking from insisting on a flat-back-four, with his switch to a back three system helping Chelsea overcome a shaky start to go on a 13-game winning run, which essentially had the title wrapped up by the turn of the year, regardless of how game Tottenham’s pursuit of them was.

The Rest – Bournemouth/Eddie Howe

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Eddie Howe enhanced his burgeoning this reputation this season

There was often little to choose between the remainder of the teams in the division, given they all had runs in the season where things were good, and then a subsequent slide down the table. Everton basically matched expectations to be the bridge between the two, Southampton managed top-half again, but were largely uninspiring, and West Brom (the runaway winners of this award for a while) simply hit 40 points and we went back to forgetting about them.

Bournemouth by no means had a fantastic season, but a final position in the top-half, despite many (including myself) worrying that second-season-syndrome would kick in and relegation could be in the offing.

With key players repeatedly being laid low with major injuries and results faltering, that fate did look a distinct possibility at one point, but Howe marshalled a still relatively inexperienced team at this level away from danger and led the side to their finest ever league finish. You can’t say fairer than that.

 

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

Top Six – N’golo Kante (Chelsea)

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The best player in the Premier League. Another sterling season for Kante

The choice between pundits was between Kante and Eden Hazard for the gong, but I’ll plump with the majority and go for the little French midfielder, who was the difference for Chelsea and has won back-to-back titles with different clubs, which is impressive on its own.

His energy has allowed the likes of Hazard to focus on wreaking havoc in attacking positions instead of being coaxed into defensive duties, and helped improve the previously flagging performances of Nemanja Matic.

Plus, his arrival was probably key in John Obi Mikel no longer playing Premier League football anymore. These are always things to be celebrated.

The Rest – Romelu Lukaku (Everton)

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It is surely a matter of time until Lukaku ends up at a top club

I wouldn’t call it a cop out. You might, but I wouldn’t, as Lukaku has not just continued to motor along at a level that is honestly beneath him, but improved his record and reputation even further by enjoying his finest ever goal-scoring season.

Goals may not be everything and he still has plenty of detractors wondering if his all-round game is yet good enough for the move up he clearly so desperately craves, but 25 goals is not an easy tally to record in the Premier League and he would have claimed the Golden Boot were it not for the crazy late-season form of Harry Kane.

Lukaku was the standout player of the sides outside of the top six. How long that is the case remains to be seen.

 

MOST IMPROVED

Top Six – Ander Herrera (Manchester United)

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Captain in shithousery. Future captain of Man Utd?

Sure some might call for Christian Eriksen at this point, but it’s only this season that people have actually begun to notice how much he does for this Spurs team. Plus as a fan, I’m far more aware of what he has been doing, so he’s just motoring along just nicely for me.

Instead I’ve gone for Herrera, who has gone from popular yet flawed midfielder struggling to hold down a place under Louis van Gaal, to being probably the most important player in this Manchester United team.

Having been underappreciated by management staff since his arrival from Athletic Bilbao, Jose Mourinho has seen him as the ideal partner to help Paul Pogba shine – only to complete outshine his more illustrious teammate.

He might be an awful shithouse of a player for fans of the opposition and his tendency to flop to the ground does grate somewhat. But you can’t knock what he’s doing in general and try to enjoy the other, more pleasing aspects of a game that has come on leaps and bounds.

The Rest – Joshua King (Bournemouth)

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King’s improvement have seen him linked with a big move

No contest here, as quite frankly this time last year, I had serious doubts about Josh King making a long-term career as a Premier League footballer, with the inkling being he would be more at home in the Championship.

Even a few months into the season I could have been forgiven for harbouring that point of view as he struggled to break into the first-team at Bournemouth, but once he took his chance, he really broke into a fine footballer.

Nobody doubted his desire or his running, but there seemed to be an issue with the final ball, the final pass and for an attacking player his returns previously were just not good enough to warrant a regular place in a top flight side.

This season it all appears to have come together for him and a leap from six to 16 Premier League goals is a testament to the work he has done away from the pitch. Plus a man with such a basic English name being a Norwegian international can only make you more endearing.

 

BEST SIGNING

Top Six – Victor Wanyama (Tottenham Hotspur)

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Wanyama’s success at Spurs has surprised a lot of people

“No Kante? But you made him your player of the season!” I hear you cry. But I’m not on board for the same player winning two awards, and this is my page and I’ll do what I want. So there.

Anyhoo, Wanyama’s arrival at Spurs was met with very little fanfare really, more an acknowledgement that he would be a useful addition to the Tottenham squad with the added burden of Champions League football and Eric Dier having been quite frankly run into the ground over the course of the previous campaign and European Championships with England.

So few people expected Wanyama to essentially oust Dier from a midfield spot he had suddenly looked extremely comfortable in, with many at Spurs putting the Kenyan powerhouse among their star performers throughout an impressive season that saw many steal the headlines.

At just a reported £9m, Wanyama was nearly a third of the price of Kante, and was just as important to another side that exceeded expectations to leave the Manchester clubs in their wake, despite all pre-season talk of the title heading back up north.

Acknowledgements to Sadio Mane and Zlatan Ibrahimovic who certainly exceeded expectations as well, but it’s Wanyama who gets the nod here.

The Rest – Joe Allen (Stoke City)

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Allen continued his good form over from Euro 2016 with Stoke

I really wish I could bend my rules and include January signings. But they only played half a season, so I can only apologise for not including Wilfred Ndidi or Kamil Grosicki. This goes double, because the summer transfer window last year was tragically bad, making it rather difficult to pick a winner for this ‘award’.

There’s a sense that if some of the sides in the division hadn’t twisted so much last summer, we may not have been talking about half the division as serious relegation candidates at some point in the season. Because there was an awful lot of crap signed, and for a lot of money as well.

Fernando Llorente did fairly well, but annoyed people for not sprinting much. Christian Benteke finished with a decent tally for Palace, but yet we still expected more from him. Few others jumped out.

So it’s Joe Allen that wins this one. Humble upon arriving with that price tag despite never really impressing at Liverpool, with his stock boosted once more by an impressive showing at the Euros with Wales.

He did pretty well, became an integral part of a Stoke side a lot of us forgot were in the Premier League and improved his goal-scoring record. Hilariously, only Peter Crouch scored more goals for the Potters this season. Allen even got a brace in one game.

 

WORST SIGNING

Top Six – Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal)

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We thought Mustafi would be a big player for Arsenal. We were wrong

Remember how I mentioned last summer’s transfer activity was a bit rubbish? This goes for the top six as well, with a gluttony of candidates available for this. Claudio Bravo, John Stones, Vincent Janssen, Moussa Sissoko, Michy Batshuayi, the list goes on. This is just the ‘bad’ ones, let alone those that just didn’t live up to expectations.

While many would expect Sissoko to win this, there was always a sense that he was brought in to bolster an already strong squad, replacing Nacer Chadli more than any first-team regular.

Mustafi on the other hand was supposed to – along with the equally disappointing Granit Xhaka – be the final works in the Arsenal puzzle, the expesive, established stars that bounced them into a serious title tilt, with the gold up for grabs following Leicester’s unexpected success.

Finally a competent partner for Laurent Koscielny had arrived in the form of Mustafi. Well, that was the thinking anyway, as the German was cumbersome, clumsy, slow and just looked all over the place as Arsenal’s defence looked worse, not better for his arrival.

For £35m, you expect so much better. You at least expect him to not end the season potentially as fourth choice, with youngster Rob Holding and the returning Per Mertesacker looking far more composed at the back for the Gunners.

The Rest – Ahmed Musa (Leicester City)

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It has not gone well for Musa at Leicester. Pitifully bad, in fact

The first signal of Leicester’s intent to not simply slip away into the pack once again after their shock title win. Also the first signal as to why they did.

Musa was the first player Leicester broke their transfer record to sign last summer. Islam Slimani came next, another striker in a team with a couple of stars already in their attack, with Shinzi Okazaki hardly disgracing himself either. So you already you wondered how things were going to fit together.

Slimani at least grabbed a handful of goals when he managed to be fit, but Musa on the other hand was an unmitigated let-down. Like, to the point where you forgot he was even there come the end of the season. Never before has a black player wished they were back in Russia.

 

YOUNG PLAYER

Top Six – Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)

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When will Alli get a challenge for this award? He should be a shining example

We all know how good Dele Alli is. We all know what a good season he had. Want to know why he won this? Because no other young player was quite frankly given anything that could be deemed a regular chance.

Gabriel Jesus may well be fantastic when he gets a full season behind him, and Hector Bellerin could well get back to his previous levels, but there are very few opportunities being offered to young players of any nationality, let alone English.

The success of England’s under 19s at the World Cup will hopefully lead to change, but with all the money going round in the game, clubs are always more likely to sign established stars than give a youngster a chance. They will keep signing promising kids, loan them out a tonne and eventually they’ll be able to toddle off somewhere in their 20s, failing to have kicked on and disillusioned with a nomadic lifestyle and a lack of chances at the place that was supposed to be home.

The Rest – Tom Davies (Everton)

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Davies is evidence of what can happen when faith is put in youth

It’s not just the money men by the way. The rest of the division is not much better for giving young players a chance, with only a couple of clubs seeming like a place to be given that chance to impress in the Premier League.

Southampton have developed a reputation for it, and Everton have also thankfully taken it upon themselves to give their impressive academy a chance to shine, with Tom Davies being the pick of the bunch.

The youngster has taken to life as a Premier League regular like a duck to water, pouring shame on Ross Barkley in the process. Davies looks comfortable and willing to kick on, with a number of Everton fans now happy to see Barkley moved on if it means Davies can be the main man driving forward from the midfield.

Alfie Mawson deserves a mention as well, but frankly the pool is still far too small to choose from. Given the disaster of last season’s transfer window, it is perhaps more pertinent to look to the academies for ways to improve the squads.

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This has been very much a fascinating season in the Premier League, with goals aplenty being fired in to raise the excitement levels at both the top and bottom of the table.

There may be no surprise package like Leicester City this season, but the gap separating the top six sides in the division stands at just ten points at the time of writing, with each one having enjoyed spells of playing fine football and scoring freely.

Goals are a major part of football of course. Without goals, teams don’t win games and therefore don’t win titles. And yet there seems to be an even bigger affinity towards goals and goalscorers than ever, with the currency of definitive strikes earning players more plaudits than they necessarily deserve.

 

Defenders for instance appear to gain far more credence for their contributions at the other end of the pitch, than for doing their job in preventing the goals going in at the other end of the pitch.

For instance, Nathan Ake was tipped to become a roaring success when he returns to Chelsea next season, touted for a first-team berth after scoring twice in three games. These goals came in Bournemouth’s thrilling 4-3 victory over Liverpool and their defeat to Southampton, and marks an impressive achievement for a defender to score in such regular fashion.

The point however is that Bournemouth conceded three times in both of those matches. Despite Ake giving some extra impetus to the attacking ranks going forward, he was also part of a defence that shipped six goals in 180 minutes. Yet Ake was being talked about as potentially forcing his way into a Chelsea defence that was already into their extraordinary run of victories, with an incredibly lean defensive record at the heart of that.

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Nathan Ake to walk into this current Chelsea team? Please…

Virgil van Dijk is another who has benefitted from an impressive record in front of goal, which his prowess earning him links to the majority of the top clubs in England, should he look to leave Southampton.

While he has always proved competent at the back as well, it was not until he started scoring goals as well that those rumours arose. An article written after The Saints’ recent 4-1 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur claimed van Dijk’s stock had risen after scoring the opener, absolving from any blame for the following capitulation against a side who had a less than stellar record away from home this season.

It was not until he had managed the ultimate disgrace by being sent off late on in the next home defeat to West Brom that he was finally called out on a poor run of form, with Charlie Nicholas freed of the shackles of praise to criticise his recent performances. His display against Spurs saw him easily beaten to the ball by Dele Alli for Spurs’ equaliser, before a dreadful waft of a leg during Victor Wanyama’s surge into the box saw fellow centre-back Jose Fonte forced into a last-ditch block.

Defenders who rarely score seem to receive less praise than those more successful at the other end of the pitch, with the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, Jan Vertonghen and even Ragnar Klavan overlooked for their performances this campaign.

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Would Van Dijk be as highly rated without the regular goals?

It’s not just defenders who are able to paper over cracks with goals however. The aforementioned Alli has perhaps avoided censure for some of his displays this season due to his ability to pop up with a goal every now and then. He has perhaps not been as creative as some of his fellow attacking midfielders however, with even Harry Kane creating more chances this season.

Paul Pogba likewise was receiving heavy criticism until he started finding the back of the net, with only goals deemed worthy of ‘paying back the transfer fee’. It feels ridiculous that no successful passes, tackles or simple positional awareness is worthy of being considered fiscally appropriate, despite those all being important parts of midfielder’s job.

Then you come to the propensity of pundits and co-commentators to simply pick goalscorers as their winners of the Man of the Match award, frequently referring them to having ‘turned the game’ with their goal, essentially picking a moment of the match, as opposed to somebody who has enjoyed 90 minutes of all-round play.

One instance that sticks in the memory (sorry Saints fans, I don’t mean to pick on you) was Southampton’s 3-0 victory over West Ham this season, in which the co-commentator gave the award to Charlie Austin, despite claiming he barely touched the ball in the opening 40 minutes before his opener. Despite players like Oriol Romeu, Ryan Bertrand and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg distinctly enjoying superior games, it was the one stick out moment for that particular pundit (name escapes me) and the opening scorer was given the award.

 

As stated, goals are important to win football matches and I would never knock any player for scoring goals and aiding their team’s efforts to win a game.

However there are many different facets to winning a game of football and goals are just one part of it. Too much attention is solely paid to that part of things, allowing many players to paper over the cracks in their game by merely contributing to that final 5% of the match.

 

Share the same views? Or vary from that passionately? Feel free to add your comments below!

Danny Rose

It’s been a phenomenal season for Tottenham Hotspur this year, punctuated by a vast number of high quality individual performances.

While the campaign looks likely to ultimately end in disappointment as they have found themselves eclipsed by the wonder story that is Leicester City, Spurs fans will be thrilled by a number of their squad, full of optimism for the years going forward under manager Mauricio Pochettino.

With the PFA award nominees coming out this week, nods have been given to Dele Alli as a Young Player of the Year, and Harry Kane straddling nominations in both awards.

Other notable players who have received a high amount of praise have been Eric Dier for his shift from utility defender to one of the best holding midfielders in the division, and Toby Alderweireld for almost single-handedly turning the Spurs defence around into the meanest in the league.

 

One player who has perhaps flown under the radar (as there are seemingly a finite amount of players who can be praised per team) is Danny Rose, who has been steadily improving since the arrival of the Argentine at White Hart Lane and is their true big-game player.

In a first summer that saw very little incoming transfer activity from Pochettino, one of the few signings he did make was to bring in Ben Davies from Swansea City, seemingly spelling the beginning of the end for an erratic Rose who had thus far done little to convince fans he was a long-term answer to what has always been a problem position.

It’s now six years since Rose burst onto the scene with that wonder goal against Arsenal – instantly putting himself into folklore in North London – and he is longer at an age (25) where ‘potential’ can still be discussed. Despite Theo Walcott offering evidence to the contrary.

Starting that game actually as a right winger, Rose was soon shifted to left-back by Harry Redknapp and despite some promising initial performances as a stand-in for Benoit Assou-Ekotto, the form of a rejuvenated Gareth Bale pushed him down the pecking order and out of the first-team picture until the Welshman moved further up the pitch.

It was a loan spell at Sunderland where Rose was really able to cut his teeth, managing to impress in a struggling side and convincing Andre Villas-Boas to give him his chance at White Hart Lane.

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It was his spell at Sunderland that earned Rose his chance to impress at Spurs

A season in which he was the only recognised left-back at the club did little to convince supporters he was the long-term option for Spurs going forward in a season of transition, with his performances in the thrashings by Chelsea and Liverpool raising serious questions about his suitability for the role.

The arrival of Davies suggested incoming manager Pochettino thought likewise despite a new five-year deal being signed, but this merely seemed to galvanise Rose and drive him to a new and unexpected level.

For Rose seems to blossom when challenged by absolutely anything. A loan spell in Sunderland saw him thrive as he looked to prove himself to his parent club. Competition from a fine player in Davies saw him take his game even further to cement his place in the squad. And it is no surprise to see that when Spurs take on the bigger sides in the division, the Englishman is frequently one of the better players on the pitch.

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The arrival of Ben Davies was supposed to push Rose towards the fringes of the first team once more

Pochettino’s system is potentially one of the biggest factors in his rise in importance, supporting his natural instincts to bomb n forward knowing that Eric Dier is deep enough in his holding role to cover should the gaps be left.

He does not slack on the defensive side of games either as he and Kyle Walker cover an enormous amount of ground per game. Without wanting to dip into superlatives here, I do not recall a pair of full-backs who get up and down the pitch so frequently since the likes of Cafu and Roberto Carlos in that Brazil side of the turn of the millennium.

It can perhaps be of no coincidence that Rose’s worst games over the past two years have come against the lesser clubs in the division, where perhaps complacency sinks in, or a defensive line-up on the part of the opposition stifles his desire to get forward, with less space available.

It can also be of no coincidence that of the four games in the Premier League this season that Spurs have lost in the Premier League this season, Rose missed three of them, with his sole experience of being on the losing side coming in the shock defeat at home Newcastle in December.

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Rose celebrates after scoring in Spurs’ 5-3 victry over Chelsea last season

In the victories over Chelsea and Arsenal last season, Rose was phenomenal, thundering into challenges in big London derbies and proving a constant menace going forward, while he was also instrumental in the comeback draw against West Ham as well.

In those games again this season he has also enjoyed superb games, with victory at Manchester City being another game in which he excelled. The weekend’s thrashing of Manchester United also saw him enjoy a fine game, combining his attacking prowess with defensive solidarity to put him alongside Erik Lamela in the running for man-of-the-match.

Rose is far from a polished gem of a player, but nobody has adapted to Pochettino’s philosophy as well, or embodies it as much as the newly-capped England full-back.

Full of endless running, a never-say-die attitude, tactical flexibility and a belief in himself to compete against anybody in the division, Rose is Tottenham’s forgotten general and embodies a Spurs side that has risen against the odds to find a place among the elite.

Time is very much of the essence for Roberto Martinez currently. It has been running out for some time now, as Everton fans, and subsequently the media are quickly realising how flawed he is as a manager.

Now in his third season at Goodison Park, there has been no progress forthcoming since the Spaniard took over, with Everton in fact having tumbled down the table, infuriating a set of fans who are generally some of the most patient in the country.

Under the stewardship of David Moyes, fans endured mixed seasons as they yo-yoed up and down the table on a whim, yet there was plenty of understanding among the crowd that the Scot would be capable of turning it around, with more ire directed towards a board that was not investing in the side.

Once Moyes was permitted to ‘enjoy’ a spell at Manchester United, Everton were tasked with finding a new manager for the first time in a decade, with Martinez seemingly given the bigger stage he deserved.

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After three years, Martinez’ time at Everton appears to be running thin

Credited with building the Swansea side that climbed up the divisions into the Premier League and made Brendan Rodgers the egomaniac he is today, Martinez signed for Everton on the back of an unprecedented FA Cup victory with Wigan Athletic.

With a massive achievement like that coming against all odds, in theory he was the perfect man to take Everton through that glass ceiling separating them from really troubling the top four positions, the board clearly happy to back the new man to realise their dreams.

What should have been heeded more was the relegation suffered by Wigan in that same season, with a side that toppled Manchester City to win the cup managing to be worse than a rancid Sunderland side who had looked doomed with a month of the campaign remaining.

 

The patience that he has been afforded to by the Toffees’ faithful has now worn thin, as despite a positive opening season, Everton have gradually gotten worse as time has gone on.

Their defensive record has become a running joke, their record at Goodison Park is among the worst outside of the relegation zone, and a side that looks very promising on paper is seemingly falling well short of its potential.

Everton are a side boasting one of the top strikers in world football in Romelu Lukaku. One of England’s most exciting midfield prospects in a long time in Ross Barkley. A man who excelled against Lionel Messi for Bosnia & Herzegovina at the last World Cup in Muhamed Besic. The apparent heir to Bobby Moore in John Stones. And yet they have yet to even reach the magical 40 point mark that is supposed to guarantee a reprieve from relegation from the Premier League.

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Touted as a major prospect for England, John Stones is suffering for the mis-management of Martinez

Stones’ potential alone has been pinpointed for a number of years among more learned people than I, but his progression will only continue to falter under a manager who does not believe clean sheets are important to recording victories.

Lukaku is a forward who will attract any club in the world should he desire to push for a move away from Merseyside and a continued failure to even threaten challenging for Europe and a rather vocal agent will only amplify his wish to compete on a grander scale.

 

This felt like a make or break season for Martinez, to prove that he is the man to take Everton forward, following in the footsteps of Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur in breaking up the elite sides in the division. If West Ham have make a fist of it this season, a side with the talent Everton possess should be expected to pose some form of threat.

With new investors coming into the club at the end of 2015 and always the potential they might want to bring in their own man, this has felt like an audition for Martinez to keep his job into the 2016/17 season.

Since Farhad Moshiri arrived at the club, he has seen a sorry state of a side limp into the second half of the season, with the Toffees’ last 13 games yielding just 13 points, seeing them slip to 14th in the table.

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The natives are restless. And understandably so

The silver lining for Martinez is a place in the FA Cup semi-finals, and he must put all of his efforts into winning this trophy now to give him a fighting chance of being given another season at Goodison.

With Everton being given the tougher task of taking on either West Ham or Manchester United for a place in the season curtain-closer, Martinez will have to fancy his chances of landing silverware should they progress beyond the semis.

With dissent growing within the fans as ‘Martinez Out’ banners have begun to appear, he could quieten some of those doubters by bringing a first trophy to the club since 1995, buying himself more time to ensure he will be remembered as a success, making it difficult for new owners to dispose of him easily and perhaps convincing star players to give an extra year to the club.

Failure to do so and a bottom half finish will see the clamour for change increase. A series of daft sound-bites, a failure to realise that there are problems and obvious tactical deficiencies are undermining his position currently, with even the nice guy image beginning to dwindle.

Without that mask, he is susceptible to criticism from outside of the club and that is the beginning of the end for Martinez. Only cup glory will probably save him from an inevitable – and deserved – change of personnel in the summer.

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For years we have been told that the Premier League is the greatest league in the world by the marketing force of Sky, with the best fans to go along with it.

Nothing is quite the same as the group of fans who have had football thrust upon them since the day they were born, with generations of ‘bleeding’ the colours of their kit imprinted on their DNA in the same manner as an heart disease or hairline deficiency will one day catch up with them.

“There is no atmosphere in football like in England,” we are told. “Can (insert foreign player here) adapt to having a stadium of grown men tunelessly warble simple ditties, or insult referees? It’s not quite like home,” they tell us, as though tuneless ditties do not exist anywhere else in the world.

I, among many others have had experience of football in foreign pastures. The Nou Camp is a fairly quiet place, watched in an almost theatrical sense, with food being passed out around the ground during the action and any noise being a murmur that grows into a crescendo the closer the ball gets to the opposition’s goal.

Both Spain and Italy have this reputation for having a small contingent of ‘ultras’ who do the singing and chanting, while the rest of the crowd simply sit back and enjoy what unfolds before them.

Germany has recently garnered a reputation for having a lively in-match atmosphere to finally rival England, with their low ticket prices making the game easily accessible for people of all working classes to go and enjoy the experience.

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The Camp Nou is a different experience to watching football in England

For despite all the talk about how great English football is for atmosphere, the persistent inflation of ticket prices has in fact damaged it heavily, and there appears to be a real lack of identity to the fan-base within the grounds.

The working classes will now find it harder and harder to afford to make top flight games in particular and quite frankly we as a nation have become somewhat more placid of late, our interest mainly on being entertained by what we have paid through the nose to see, rather than be part of the show ourselves.

The worst part about the English football for what I have noticed however, is that we actually seem to revel more in the misery of others, rather enjoy our own victories and accomplishments. That tribal aspect of completing a hunt is diminishing by the day, as we instead taunt the carcass of our prey, instead of feasting on the flesh that was the goal in the first place.

Take Monday night’s fixture between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa for example. Now as a Spurs fan, I can testify that White Hart Lane has definitely lost some of the atmosphere it became renowned for over the past few years.

This is most likely a consequence of Spurs becoming a better side and therefore being expected to win most of their matches on home soil, with it surely no coincidence that the best sounding atmospheres of last season were the home victories over Chelsea and Arsenal; two games which were far more intense and had no real guarantee of a win (if there ever is such a thing with Spurs?).

With an early goal helping settle a contest against the weakest side in the division currently, there was little for the travelling Villa fans to get their teeth into, or extract any hope, while any Spurs nerves were put to bed and they relaxed into what was now expected to be a comfortable victory.

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Kane & Lamela celebrate the final goal in Spurs’ victory over Villa on Monday

This in turn saw the noise levels among the home fans drop significantly early on. With now ample opportunity to inflict their own decibels into the night sky as the numbers game decreased, we should have expected a number of pro-Villa songs from the away end, urging their side to overcome the odds stacked against them and mount a comeback.

Instead, they took solace in the fact that they were the only ones singing, with the majority of their chants referencing the quiet around them. “Is this a library?” “We forgot that you were here.” That sort of tired rubbish. Instead of attempting to play a part (no matter how small) in a Villa comeback, they simply bragged that they were willing to make more noise than their counterparts, despite being greatly outnumbered.

Now this is no sleight at either Villa or Spurs, but an example of the norm these days. Home fans will largely only have a small pocket of fans who believe chanting is part of their matchday experience. Away fans will be expected to attempt to make a greater noise to mask their numerical disadvantage and will revel in doing so. Especially if their team is losing and they need to attain some form of one-upmanship.

This is by no means restricted to the money-orientated Premier League either, with little Bournemouth hardly adding much noise following their promotion. Last season I spent plenty of time down at Griffin Park watching Brentford and found little to differentiate between the strange atmospheres generated at the top.

Both sides would often claim to “sing on our own,” leading me to feel there must be some acoustical problems within the ground, as people from either end would often do this in tandem, again failing to bother singing about their own side and/or players.

Goals are rarely so much celebrated among the group, but met with rude hand gestures towards the opposition fans, goading them in their disappointment. The initial songs following a goal are not to triumph that success and will their side on further, but to revel in the misery of their counterparts, questioning, “who are ya?” reminding them that they are no longer signing, or informing them that they could potentially be relegated on the back of this potential result.

Vardy v Leicester

This Vardy strike appeared to provoke an angry reaction from one West Brom fan

Beyond simply singing mocking and/or offensive songs there is also the truth that outside of South America, Great Britain is the only place on earth you appear to see grown men careering down the turnstiles to ‘get at’ an opposition player who has just netted.

On Saturday, one such example arose as pictures just caught the image of a West Brom fan seeming to be being restrained by a steward, as Jamie Vardy celebrated near the crowd after scoring Leicester’s third goal in their victory over the Baggies.

It is something we see fairly consistently, and a fairly mild-mannered friend of mine has admitted to doing so at a Cambridge United match previously. Lord knows what would actually happen if they were allowed to get there; most likely they would baulk at the confrontation if it were allowed to happen. Fortunately this isn’t South America.

It just seems weird that we in England cling to this ‘best fans in the world’ idea of ourselves. It may well come from the fact that we are no longer a major force on the international scene and once again need to establish some form of dominance somewhere.

But the truth is we are not. We are bound somewhere in the purgatory that exists between pacifism and outright violence, seemingly unable to find any form of solace being between the two extremes.

For we as a people and as a fan-base are drawn purely to misery, more so than any accomplishments. And the only way we can find true happiness anymore is by finding people more miserable than us, in one way or another.

tim-sherwood-aston-villa-premier-league_3265211

Some people are just born leaders. They exude that aura around them that really makes others take notice and feel compelled to follow them.

Other people simply believe they should be leaders, talking the talk in the hope that somebody, anybody, will buy into the message and follow them down a road that has yet to be decided as yet.

People like Sir Alex Ferguson fit into the former, a man who just commanded respect from his peers and peons alike. Some may have questioned some of his decision making in the latter part of his career, but there was never any question as to whether people would follow him to the end of the earth, such was his character.

For the latter, read Tim Sherwood. A man who has managed to carve out a career in management based on little else than bluster, constantly talking up his own ability without ever doing anything to back up his credentials.

Sherwood is not a man who dropped down the divisions to hone his skills as a leader like so many before him, instead believing that his ‘experience’ working with the youth teams at Tottenham Hotspur made him ready to take the top job.

His self-confidence got him a crack at the top job at Spurs, taking over from Andre Villas-Boas and spending six months as a caretaker before being informed he had not done an adequate enough job to be given any longer.

Sherwood’s record at White Hart Lane was not bad, as he will constantly inform you, with talk about win percentages. But this was a Spurs side that, while shorn of the talents of Gareth Bale, was still packed with talent and should have been a match for any side in the division.

Sherwood will point to victories that continued to be narrow over the lesser lights of the Premier League, but when it came to pitting himself against the best sides in the division, the sides Spurs were trying to catch, his record was pitiful; losing games against top three Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea by an accumulated scoreline of 13-1.

Adebayor salutes Sherwood

Getting performances out of Adebayor has been Sherwood’s biggest success as a manager

He will claim to have resurrected Emmanuel Adebayor from the recycling bin at Spurs, but in truth, Sherwood is potentially as much to blame for the failings of many of Spurs’ ‘Magnificent Seven’ signed in the wake of Bale’s world record transfer to Real Madrid.

Eril Lamela was cast off with an injury that was never described as anything more than a ‘back injury’ for six months, whilst Nacer Chadli was another player made an outcast, with his performances the following season making a mockery of Sherwood’s treatment of him.

Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches and Roberto Soldado have all now left the club and they fared little better under Sherwood, whose love of honest, hard-working English players can only have belittled their confidence further, with Soldado’s failure to emerge as a success the biggest craw in the throat of any Spurs fan.

With talk claiming Spurs players had given their verdict on Sherwood to Levy, the Spurs chairman offered no continuation to Sherwood in his current role and offered him another back in the backroom staff in North London, which was never to be of interest to man who had developed such a high opinion of himself like the former Blackburn captain.

Not only that, but the offer of taking the West Bromwich Albion job also proved of little interest to Sherwood, with Sherwood feeling that was too much of a step down for a man already eyeing the England job in the back of his own mind.

So nine months went by before Sherwood was convinced to end a sabbatical that lasted longer than his time in the game, with Aston Villa finally losing patience with the turgid ‘entertainment’ Paul Lambert was offering and giving Mr Personality an opportunity to cache those cheques his mouth was writing.

Sherwood Villa

It seems a long time ago that it all started so positively for Sherwood at Villa

There can be no doubt Sherwood had an initial revitalising tonic effect on a Villa side that were struggling to so much as score goals or launch meaningful attacks under the previous manager, but the wheels had already appeared to be coming off at the back end of last season.

Having secured survival, Villa went on a run of defeats to ensure they finished in 17th come the conclusion of proceedings, before being soundly thrashed by Arsenal in the FA Cup final, with the Midlands side barely posing even the faintest threat to the Gunners.

A summer in which we watched to see how Sherwood would handle his first proper transfer window (he was technically in charge throughout one at Spurs) was of great intrigue, and one that left us on the outside a little puzzled.

Sherwood called for Premier League ‘experience’, something he confused with has-been footballers, and doubled that up with a host of untested players mainly plying their trade in France, with few really exciting the imaginations of the fans.

With Swansea snatching up Andre Ayew on a free transfer, Villa opted to sign his less-talented younger brother Jordan for a figure reportedly close to the £10million mark, while people much more learned than me in regards to Ligue Un affairs were somewhat puzzled that either Idrissa Gueye or Jordan Veretout had attracted the attentions of the Villains.

Rudy Gestede was signed by Sherwood as ‘the best header of the ball’ in the league, but then either sat on the bench or played in a system that included no wingers, showing him up for the limited striker he is, able to dovetail well with Jordan Rhodes at Blackburn, but ineffective as a lone striker, especially when lacking any service.

Only £10m left-back Jordan Amavi could potentially be described as a success from the summer acquisitions, but Sherwood even found room to drop him to the bench, with Kieran Richardson once again shoe-horned into a defensive role, with the emphasis taken away from being defensively resolute, but needing an extra attacker.

Jordan Amavi

Amavi has probably been the only success of Sherwood’s first proper transfer window

One can sympathise that Sherwood was shorn of the spine of the Villa side over the summer, with Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph and Ron Vlaar all leaving the club, but just one success from the raft of players he did coax into joining is a pitiful response to losing your three top talents.

In addition to that, the final part of that spine Brad Guzan appears to have lost an awful lot of confidence since the arrival of Sherwood, having once been one of the finest goalkeepers outside of the elite six in the division.

But having won their opener in perhaps fortunate circumstances against newly promoted Bournemouth, Villa have picked up just one point since, a home draw against an equally hapless Sunderland side, losing eight fixtures, including a home derby defeat to West Brom.

Sherwood always spoke voraciously about his belief in himself to turn things around, but this was so frequently contradicted by other statements, such as being bored by his side, seemingly ignoring that it was his duty as manager to make his side entertaining to watch, if not to actually win games of football.

And so the axe has fallen on Sherwood, with the club languishing at the bottom of the table, with just one victory and four points on the board, with little sign of life within a luck-lustre squad.

His initial effect to keep Villa up last season has quickly dwindled, and it was perhaps telling that the statement from the club on releasing the news to the media only thanked him for his efforts last season, not quite as willing to offer any gratitude for his start to yet another torrid start to the season at Villa Park.

For a man so enamoured with win percentages after his dismissal from Tottenham, it would be remiss not to bring up a 26% win rate during his time with Villa, emerging victorious in just six of the 23 Premier League games he took charge of.

Sherwood Villa Stats

Sherwood’s stats with Villa don’t make for pretty reading

So what next for Sherwood? Rumours have linked him with the vacant managerial post at Swindon Town, and that might actually be a wise move for him, giving him a chance to actually hone his abilities as a manager away from the spotlight of the Premier League and build his way back up.

His reputation among the elite his damaged and now is the time for Sherwood to develop some humility and earn his credentials, instead of relying on the worry over a lack of British managers among the press to force him into the reckoning of any top flight job, knowing his gift of the gab may well talk himself into another high-profile failure.

Sherwood’s management career so far has focused on being all heart and very little head. It’s now time for him to take some time away from the high-pressured world of the Premier League and actually learn the skill of management before he makes any sort of return.

Brendan Rodgers

Alas, it finally happened, as the Liverpool axe finally swung on Brendan Rodgers, with his tenure in charge at Anfield coming to an end after months of speculation.

It was of no big surprise to many as he was reportedly given until this forthcoming international break to prove to the higher-ups that he was the right man for the job, having endured a difficult start to the season after another summer of heavy spending.

The front runners for the vacancy on Merseyside have proven somewhat predictable, with Jurgen Klopp looking almost certain to take over within the coming days, with Carlo Ancelotti having also been a favourite, if only as an alternative.

But while the speculation around his successor continues to swirl around the media gossip columns, what is next for Brendan Rodgers?

It’s always a difficult question to pose when any manager leaves a top job through no choice of his own, with that apparent failure in his role suddenly making him an unattractive option to other clubs of the same ilk.

But given Rodgers extreme self-confidence/arrogance (delete as applicable to you, dear reader), we find ourselves in that pickle in that he would perhaps not be too keen on taking a lesser job, as he is of the firm belief that he is more than capable of taking charge of a title challenger.

One only has to go back a couple of weeks for evidence of this, with Rodgers refuting claims of the sack by claiming he is “the same man who nearly won us (Liverpool) the title, but better.” These are not the words of a man prepared to spend his time headbutting the glass ceiling in the middle of the Premier League table.

Gerrard Slip

Did this widely ridiculed incident prove a turning point in Rodgers’ managerial career?

Rodgers does have that point regarding his ability as a manager, in that he was but a Steven Gerrard slip and a hashed performance at Crystal Palace from clinching Liverpool’s first league title since the dawning of the Premier League era. He built a thrilling side that possessed some of the world’s finest players going forward, playing some scintillating football before being pipped to top spot by Manchester City.

But his detractors will merely point to that season being the anomaly to his time at Anfield, with his other two completed seasons seeing him record eighth and sixth placed finishes, with his start to the new campaign seeing the Reds well down in mid-table, indicating more of the same before his dismissal.

That second placed finish was not met with anything resembling consistency, with the loss of Luis Suarez proving more than Rodgers was capable of dealing with, given his persistently poor success record in the transfer market.

Having already mocked Spurs for blowing their Gareth Bale money the previous summer, Rodgers spent over £110million on new players, with possibly only Emre Can emerging from the 2014/15 season with any credit. Mainly for the fact he was played out of position frequently.

The likes of Lazar Markovic flopped badly given the £20m price paid to Benfica, so much so that he has been loaned out to Fenerbahce, with Rodgers already seeming to have given up hope of turning that around. Neither Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert or Dejan Lovren looked comfortable in making the step ‘up’ from Southampton, proving another £50m poorly spent.

And even the most one-eyed of Liverpool fans could not fathom the logic behind recruiting Mario Balotelli to lead the line for the Reds. Much of Liverpool’s success in the 2013/14 season came from pressing high up the pitch, with the strikers expected to do just as much work as the midfielders; an expectation of Balotelli that seemed just ludicrous.

Mario Balotelli Liverpool

Who seriously expected this to work out well?

Having understandably lost one key player to the clutches of mega-power Barcelona, Rodgers could have been given some leeway for lowering expectations, but his subsequent splurging of the income on players not fit to improve the side and failure to keep on board his other star players has damaged his reputation.

Failure to deal well with the ego of Raheem Sterling, before reaching an untenable situation that required him to be sold, plus failure to manage the injury-prone Daniel Sturridge by constantly rushing him back help fix the mess unfolding at Anfield – these are things that won’t be looked upon favourably by clubs with high aspirations, with aims of being in the title hunt.

However, while he can be forgiven for not being interested in the mess that is Sunderland, Rodgers firmly believes he should still be managing a side in the top echelon of the division, with no requirement to drop down a level to rebuild his reputation.

Should he really be turning his nose up at the likes of Aston Villa or Newcastle (with both having very precarious looking managers currently), two huge clubs historically with a massive fan base and the potential to be better than they are currently faring?

These might prove better jobs for him to prove how great a coach he thinks he is, instead of the parody he became during the latter spells of his Liverpool tenure.

Rodgers-Brent

The Rodgers/Brent comparisons were frequently used to mock the Liverpool manager

Guillem Balague has mooted that a move to Spain might be an option for Rodgers, in the same way that David Moyes has tried to restore his credibility abroad with Real Sociedad.

In a way, that might be a good thing for him, taking himself out of the British media glare and purely focussing on actual management, instead of reliving his David Brent fantasies in front of a camera. Focussing on tactics and the art of defending, instead of stewing over what quasi-philosophical quote to relay the next time a microphone is pushed in front of his face.

This is something that has worked in the favour of Steve McLaren as well, but Rodgers must accept the top jobs will not come easily in Spain either. Italy and Germany are frequently reluctant to give the top jobs to people unproven in either their own country or in Europe completely; and it’s not as though the Northern Irishman boasts a CV littered with winners medals.

With his only real success as a manager having been maintaining the upward spiral Swansea were already on before the departure of Roberto Martinez, appointing Rodgers from here-on actually proves a major risk for any club with any ambition.

Hopefully time away from the media glare of Anfield gives Rodgers time to reflect upon his own ego and realise how little justification he has for such a high opinion of himself.

Realism is now required from the now ex-Liverpool boss, if he is to ever find another job that fits both his and the club’s needs.