Manager Merry Go-Round incoming..

Well that Premier League is well underway and whilst it looks like it could be ‘Liverpool’s Year’, there is plenty to talk about with the stuttering teams behind them. With some very strange results and some concerning defeats for the so called ‘Big 6’ in the Premier League, question marks are being to arise around the management at the clubs not just in the Premier League but also abroad, especially in La Liga too.

Something is happening at Spurs which nobody is quite sure about. The way the players are performing and acting resonates with me as a Chelsea fan who has seen players down tools under managers such as Mourinho or Conte etc.. But how can a team who reached the heights of last season become so lacklustre and poor this season? Investment (or lack of) in the summer is probably the main issue but keeping players such as Vertonghen, Erikson and Alderwiereld at the club and allowing them to run down there contract and leave for free when they probably wanted a move anyway just seems an absolute nightmare decision. Other clubs usually cash in and take the offers for players entering the last 12 months so they can start to build for the future without them rather than wait and wait to see if they may sign. Pochettino is a top manager, he has transformed Spurs on limited budget and I’m sure he will have many clubs wanting him if he leaves Spurs – mainly Real Madrid or Man Utd. But Levy would have to spend £32million to sack him (and Levy rarely gives away cash if he doesn’t have too) so ultimately could end up hoping Poch resigns or another club approaches for him – this could all take a very sour turn.

 

‘Ole’s at the Wheel’ – or as I said in April – ‘Sacked By Christmas’. All jokes aside, Manchester United as a club are in dire straits. From owners taking Billions out of them whilst also putting hundreds of millions in debt. Ed Woodward supposedly being the businessman but also somehow landed himself the transfer kitty too. I’m of the opinion that Managers must have a say in who they want to sign or atleast what type of player who will fit into your vision. You can’t expect a manager to turn up one day and work with a piece of kit that they have no interest in or wanted something different – ultimately if it’s your team it should be your players but this is seemingly not happening as much anymore, especially not in the elite clubs who are more commercially invested in sponsorship deals and big names.

Ole has never proven himself as a manager and that lack of knowledge/experience mixed with the current squad was never going to work in my opinion. The Squad is not Manchester United and not even close and to make matters worse, the youth academy and prospects coming through are nowhere near up to standard of a Top 6 team now. I’m all for sentiment and hoping that Ole as a legend would do something special and maybe if they give him 4 windows to prove he can do something then it will change but honestly can’t see the club being able to afford a couple seasons out of European Football (which is what is going to happen) and the Owners/Board settling for mediocrity and giving Ole a £500m war chest without proven experience of knowing how to use it.. Someone like Allegri may be an attractive proposition to the United Board. The former Juventus manager who won so much with the club, would have a good relationship with key player Paul Pogba and also would turn United into a hard team to beat.

Unai Emery up until about 2 weeks ago was being touted for the sack but Arsenal have won a few games and find themselves back in the Top 4 again but I wouldn’t be surprised when Arsenal go on their standard Feb/March drought and they begin to call for his head again. Tactically I don’t think we will see Arsenal challenging again but they could take advantage of other teams transition seasons and get back into Champions League football. With some promising youngsters coming through such as Willock, Martinelli and Baka – the future looks bright for them!

Zinedine Zidane must be on his last chance by now at Real Madrid, those white handkerchiefs have been out in force at the Bernabeu already and with the world’s most fickle fans seemingly not pleased with recent performances, especially in the Champions League and star names like Hazard and Jovic not setting the world alight, the potential for Zidane to go is mounting. Maybe as long time admirers of Pochettino, Madrid will made a bold move to sack (or Zidane resign due to the negativity) and replace ZZ with Poch in the hot seat but Mourinho was also being touted in the Summer for a return? Zidane may step away from management all together after this latest stint in charge but if PSG or Juventus come calling for him, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him in the French Capital.

One thing is for certain, Jurgen Klopp isn’t going anywhere and Pep Guardiola has to stay at City until he brings them a Champions League or he’s failed in my opinion.

Managerial Predictions for beginning for the 2020 season:

 

Tottenham Hotspur – Eddie Howe (personally think it would be a class appointment, plays unreal football and deserves a chance)

Manchester United – Massimo Allegri

Real Madrid  – Mauricio Pochettino

PSG – Zinedine Zidane

Arsenal – Unai Emery

In or Out of the Top 6?

The chase for Top 6 will be closer than ever this year. Whether that be the downfall of 3 of the supposed ‘Big 6’ but also the improvement and potential from a handful of teams waiting in the wings with a huge opportunity during the 2019/2020 season.

So who is that handful? Without a doubt, Leicester City. The potential in that squad, nurtured by Brendan Rogers and transfers of Tielemans and Perez with more rumoured to be incoming should they get a World Record Fee (for a defender) for Harry Maguire. Wolverhampton Wanderers were very strong last year and caused a number of ‘upsets’ especially at Molineux against the big boys – so with more consistency, bit more investment and now more experience in the PL, why not? Everton have a huge chance this year but they still haven’t filled the most important position on the pitch, the striker, the 20+ goals a season needed to be up there and pushing to break into the top 6.

Who else? Outsiders would be West Ham – after all the moaning from the fans, demonstrations on the pitch, embarrassing scenes really, David Gold and David Sullivan are HEAVILY investing into the club with some huge signings. It will be interesting to see how they do now without the excuses of the new stadium, lack of investment and management not being good enough (under Moyes). Lastly, I think Bournemouth will be a very solid team this season – if they keep the core together for this transfer window and make some more savvy investments.

In all seriousness, I don’t think the 5 above teams will have a better chance in breaking into the Top 6 for years to come.

Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea are all in disarray. Whether that be due to bad management from the top down, lack of transfer budget or just having a transfer ban altogether, these teams are going to be struggling big time to win week in, week out as expected to be able to get a top 4 spot but also Top 6 too.

 

Manchester United

The situation at Man United is precarious. The club is more divided than ever and the general atmosphere stinks at the moment. The Glazer Family have angered the majority of fans by taking billions out of the club but failing to reinvest or pump money in to keep the biggest club in the world competing on the highest stage. Ed Woodward, the businessman, has somehow ended up running the transfer business and as previous managers have stated, the whole structure of the club is toxic. Unfortunately for Ole, his hands are tied and in my opinion, he is walking the plank in this current position.. why? He has this ‘vision’ or the ‘United way’ as many like to think it.. invest in youth and get players that want to play for the shirt. I get that philosophy, this is something I want at Chelsea BUT the players they are currently attracting aren’t of the world class nature that will enable them to compete against the big boys and after last season’s calamity, they find themselves back in the Europa League.

I could be wrong and Dan James, Aaron Wan Bissaka and Harry Maguire for about £150m could be incredible business in the future, it’s certainly an investment in players that could play for United for the next 10 years and then the fees paid would be justified.

However, these players aren’t going to transform what I and others would consider to be a terrible aging squad but also one that seems to be low on confidence and a strange atmosphere from within. Players such as Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Alexis Sanchez, Rojo etc should not be in a Manchester United squad that wants to move forward and transform. Mix that with Players who seem to want to be elsewhere – Paul Pogba publicly getting his agent to try and force through a move, Sanchez looking to move on, David De Gea unable to force a move but stalling on a new HUGE contract – nothing shouts out to me that this team are going to go and have a good season. I don’t want to exaggerate too much but I can see United 8/9th by Christmas and people may slowly begin to turn on Solskjaer who’s managerial experience will start to become questioned.

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Arsenal

Banter FC as some may call them. When their biggest game for a decade was against Chelsea in the Europa League Final and they turned up and lost 4-1 it was never going to signal good things.. and since then they have failed to properly investment and signify any intent that they are going to try and compete. The fans are protesting against the owners, they’ve lost their best player to Juventus and they offered £45m for Wilfred Zaha’s left foot and got laughed out of the door. Club Captain Laurent Koscielny has refused to go on the pre-season tour to try and get out of the Emirates. How are they going to transform this? One positive Arsenal have is that they have kept Lacazette and Aubameyang together and that means goals.. but the core of the team behind that? Still terrible. Why have they not bought a top class Centre Back? Why haven’t they got a world class CM? Relying on Granit Xhaka or Sokratis in defence means that they are settling for being average in my opinion. Rumours coming out of the club is that Emery only has £45m to play with.. yet teams such as Leicester are spending that on players like Tielemans who will go into that midfield and run the show.

If Kroenke really wants to be at Arsenal then they need to stop using the excuse of this new stadium (which opened 13 years ago now) and balancing the books. Arsenal got nearly £200m in TV money last season.. that on top of huge sponsorship deals for the stadium, kit, shirt sponsors.. so where is this money going? They have lost players and never replaced them but also, the youngsters that have come through are yet to set the world alight. I am excited to see what Reiss Nelson can offer this season after his loan, Maitland-Niles needs to push on and cement his spot too. But with a squad still consisting of average players such as Bellerin, Monreal, Mustafi, Jenkinson, Elneny and OZIL – best thing they could do is get rid of him. Poor relationship with the manager, the fans and his wage bill is a drain for his return on Investment.

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Chelsea

Ultimately this season is going to be a rollercoaster for Chelsea and the fans. I may be a Chelsea fan but I am also a pessimist and I am not going to expect a lot to come from this season. This transfer ban couldn’t have come at a worse time for Chelsea with the current state of the squad and also the transition between managers. The appointment of Frank Lampard has already sparked some life back into the club. The positivity is back and the connection between players and fans has improved HOWEVER living in the past off Frank’s playing legacy will not mean much if we are losing games more weeks than not.

As I said earlier with United, the youth policy is about to change at the club and the saying of ‘this transfer ban may be a blessing in disguise’ could be true or these players may still not be ready for top level Premier League football.. Mason Mount looks like a player who will benefit automatically from the ban. Reece James will slowly be transitioned into the team, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will become HUGE members of the team when back from Injury. All this is good but with Champions League football, all the Cups and an aging squad then we still need to aim to knick that Top 4 spot to ensure when we do get our transfer ban out of the way, we will be able to attract the top talent in Europe by having CL football readily available..

Players such as Willian, Pedro, Giroud, Alonso and even going as far as saying Azpilicueta are possibly not good enough to be in a Chelsea team now but these are likely to be regular starters throughout this season and I am worried that many teams will find them out and without that piece of magic that we relied on last season from Eden Hazard then we may struggle to break teams down.

The fans will back Frank and Jody 100% but I hope we can sneak 4th for the long term ambition of their project.

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Best of the rest??

My favourite to break into the top 6 would have to be Leicester. The way they ended last season under Brendan Rodgers was a little sneak peek into what is potentially about to come out of the King Power stadium this season. Buying Tielemans who was huge for them last year was a great signing, keeping Maddison and allowing him to grow in the Premier League playing week in, week out and then also keeping Chilwell would be a great bit of business too.

If they let Harry Maguire go, they will do so reluctantly but I think £80m for a centre back who is good but not amazing is a great bit of business. With that money they could potentially reinvest in 2 £40m+ players who can push them again to the next level and allow them to catch up and possibly overtake teams like the above.

 

Early season prediction

  1. Manchester City
  2. Liverpool
  3. Tottenham Hotspurs
  4. Chelsea
  5. Manchester United
  6. Leicester City

Fit and Proper owners test?

British football is becoming a money haven for rich foreign owners to infiltrate clubs and earn millions off the TV deals and investment from sponsorship deals.

The Premier League has seen huge changes in ownership over the last 20 years. Nearly all clubs have changed hands..

Man United – The Glaziers

Man City – Sheik Mansour

Arsenal – Stan Kroenke

Chelsea – Roman Abramovich

Leicester – Vichai

Wolves – President Xi Jinping of China

Leeds United – too many to name!

Aston Villa – Again, too many to list!

The list could go on and on and it’s not just foreign investment either.. however the point for this article is that although these owners have entered our game and some have been ‘success stories’ particularly Leicester City and the Late Vichai who did what nobody expected and turned The Foxes from Championship level to a Premier league winners.. at 5000/1!

But others have not been successful and have ultimately destroyed clubs, communities and people’s livelihoods. The 2018/2019 season saw lots and lots of issues particularly in the EFL but the EFL fail to take action, instead they prefer clubs to go bust, deduct them points and relegate teams as if that is somehow going to magically change something for the better?

Bolton Wanderers are a prime example. Ken Anderson has run the club so far into the ground that they have unpaid tax bills, players have not been given their salaries and other clubs such as Manchester City had to donate £100k in Food Tokens to employees just to ensure that they can feed their families. What sort of sick joke is this? When is the line where the EFL should take action against owners and be able to make changes with the power and money that they have coming down from the very top?

Other examples being Coventry City.. now being forced to play their home games outside of their city for the 2nd time in 6 years due to a dispute between club, the council and a London rugby team that have taken over their stadium and been sold it on the cheap. At what point do the EFL recognise that this is a huge negative for the club, the fans who follow them and pay their hard earned cash, the league and the general outlook on how this situation is handled. The EFLs stance on this? That was to set a deadline to either have an alternative place to play or face a vote to be evicted from the Football League. Thanks for nothing.

Bury players have worked hard all season and gained PROMOTION into League 1 but the players did this due to their love of football and the club and it’s fans.. they had not and potentially still waiting for their salaries to be paid. These salaries are vital to these people, they have houses to pay, children to feed etc.. imagine turning up to work every day in your 9-5 and not getting given the money that you are owed? I certainly wouldn’t survive with car payments, insurance and lots of other outflows.. so why can’t the EFL who get millions out of TV deals or the FA who got Billions this season find a way of having some sort of back up plan in place?

Suggestion – all owners when taking control of a football club should sign a contract. Should the EFL then need to step in to support players, employees and the club, then they will automatically take ownership of the club due to the current owners incompetence and then sell the club to proper owners who will be able to sustainable run a club.

So all this really boils down too on many many occasions is that we are told that their is a ‘fit and proper owners test’ – but if rumours are to be true then the new owner at Bolton Wanderers is already a black listed fraudulent owner who was caught for tax evasion and money laundering.. Seems like that test must be simply turning up to a meeting and that’s good enough because with that track record, I would want him nowhere near my club.

Thanks but no thanks to the EFL. Another organisation so out of touch with the modern day life in the UK. Merely just old, white, Retired, British men who don’t understand the game is changing but also life in Britain is too.

Favourite stadiums visited

This blog is more around personal experiences and I have been very lucky to visit some of the best stadiums in the world for lots of different sports.

Away from Football I have managed to see Tennis at Wimbledon, Cheltenham Festival, Cricket at the Gabba, MCG and SCG in Australia, Played Rugby at Twickenham and a few other sporting occasions but Football is the sport I most want to watch.

Having an away season ticket with Chelsea has meant that I have been able to see the very best that English Football stadium has to offer as well as seeing a lot of Football league stadiums too. Old Trafford, The Emirates, Anfield are all games that you look out for when the fixture list is released in June.. this year I am more so looking forward to a trip to the new White Hart Lane.

All grounds have their own type of a Atmosphere, OT is loud when the fans sing occasionally due to the volume of people.. Anfield is loud for the first 5 minutes and last 5 minutes when they serenade you with speaker assisted singing of YNWA, Emirates is a library unless they score, City is just cocky fans in the corner because they know they’re a good team. Now a lot of that was said tongue in cheek because I know for a fact that Stamford Bridge is not a good atmosphere, hence why I would rather get an away season ticket, travel the country and meet mates along the way.

Wembley is a whole different ball game, in previous blogs I have given it a bad rating.. this is no different. The stadium itself is huge.. there lies the first problem. The second problem being that the fans are situated so far away from the pitch, the divide doesn’t make it an intimidating environment which an England Team may want to have when facing a crucial qualifier etc.. thirdly for all of round general experience, it’s overpriced and better English Stadia are available.

Moving abroad, I’ve been lucky enough to follow Chelsea across Europe a few times.. Milan (San Siro), Barcelona (Camp Nou), Schalke (Veltins Arena) PSG (Parc Des Princes), Roma (Stadio Olimpico) Prague Super Cup etc etc

I’ve also caught a game at the Bernabeu in Madrid when on a long weekend.. that stadium is incredible. Not only is it absolutely gigantic, but it also is tall and overhanging the pitch, which creates an incredible atmosphere – if Benzema isn’t missing easy chances and the fans are waving the white handkerchiefs.

I have to say the Bernabeu is probably the most impressive stadium that I have seen. A lot of the stadiums like Camp Nou and San Siro are more concrete structures – when tucked away in the corner in the heavens of Barcelona with no roof etc and San Siro has now been decided to be knocked down and rebuilt in the future.. says a lot!

Atmosphere wise though, European fans are head and shoulders above the English. Mainly due to the fact that they have standing areas, can use drums and other ways to get the crowd going and do not stop from early before kick off right until the very end.

But nothing will top my night in Barcelona, as Torres went round Valdes and sent Chelsea in the Champions League Final.. the best moment of sport I’ve ever felt live.

What is happening at Chelsea FC?

Now this blog is going to go deep into some of the issues surrounding Chelsea and I have to point out, although being a fan of Chelsea, I am also going to be a pessimist and possibly even negative about the current position Chelsea find themselves in. These are my opinion but I’m trying to weigh up both sides of the story..

The club is in a strange place at the moment, nobody knows what direction we are going in, what is happening on and off the pitch and who is even calling the shots anymore.. as fans it’s becoming frustrating and even demoralising. It’s only football, I get it.. but it’s still a passion and something that we want to enjoy!

Let’s start off the pitch..

Roman Abramovich is the boss, the owner who has created history with Chelsea, transform the club and everything that comes with it. We are the most successful English club in terms of trophies in the last 10 years. ‘We’ve won it all’ and a lot of that credit goes to Roman. He’s done more than meets the eye to an outsider looking in. He’s created a culture within Chelsea and has gone back to the roots of this club. Providing World Class facilities and investing in the infrastructure has been key. A trip to Cobham is eye opening and something that every player in the world would want. The academy on the back of this has become the best in the world. Winning Trophy after trophy every year and not just domestically but also winning the equivalent to Champions Leagues. This winning mentality breeds some of the best players in English football and although the youth has barely broken into the First Team 11, the fans are hoping the culture is beginning to change.

This is all well and good, but now Abramovich is effectively banned from working on his football club, the government have stopped this from happening and whilst this politics is ongoing, the worse this gets for Chelsea as a club. Why would you continue to pump money into your business if you’re not allowed to work for it? It’s like having a car but not being allowed to put fuel in it. What’s the point in owning it? We’ve seen the impact of this already with the dropping of plans to transform Stamford Bridge into an incredible venue for CFC.

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The board now enter into discussion. Whilst working for the brand of Chelsea FC, promoting the ethics and the ethos that the club is built on, this is all positive and we are now becoming a huge business winning massive sponsorship deals with worldwide companies such as Nike and Yokohama. However, the football knowledge and the connection between fans has never been wider. They just simply do not get it. It’s becoming laughable..

We have no Sporting Director to work between the business side and the football management side. Petr Cech has been rumoured but even that has still not been sorted after nearly 2 weeks. Other clubs have sporting/footballing directors in place and it is vital to success. A key example is Txiki Begiristain former Barcelona and now Manchester City sporting director has a huge relationship between business and Pep Guardiola. Pep scopes out what/who he wants, goes to Txiki and then Txiki approaches the board around money and then does the negotiation. This approach is very successful, he is a popular man with agents and players and gets the job done. Chelsea? Well they don’t have that in place, instead they have Marina Granovskaia who is described as a bulldog in negotiations and drives a hard bargain. Inexperience maybe on the football side of things does not help when trying to sign and convince a player to join Chelsea FC. Businesswoman she is fantastic and key to some of the big deals we have made with sponsors but looking at Chelsea history of signing players over the last 4/5 years, I am not convinced.

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On the pitch..

Management  – hot topic or what! With Sarri on his way by the looks of it, the Manager merry-go-round starts again. Another season Chelsea win a European trophy, finish top 4 and another year a manager is sacked. To be fair, I was never convinced by him let alone thrilled by the football we played. I lost count the amount of times I saw Chelsea live last year and the frustration was ridiculous. From losing 6-0 away at City to the dull 0-0 draw at the last game of the season. We scraped into 3rd due to other teams bottling it and being awful around us. One thing that I must say is that Sarri has inherited an awful squad and had no pre-season to engrain his philosophy into the team and you can’t play the way he wants too in England with players like Marcus Alonso and Willian. However, what I do find unforgivable from Sarri was the fact he turns round to his own fans and says ‘I don’t care what they think’.. not going to be here long if you say that about us, Maurizio. The stubbornness to not change his style of play even when we are losing and being dominated. The stubbornness to not try Kante in CDM. The stubbornness to not give Callum Hudson-Odoi a real chance when the fan base were praying for him to be played.. and when he played, he scored or was involved most of the time. By the sounds of it, he wants to leave Chelsea too and is ready to take the Juve job and good luck to him, it maybe wasn’t meant to be and to be fair, I’m not sure any manager that comes into Chelsea at the moment has much chance to do better than he did with the current state we are in.

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We have a lot of deadwood at Chelsea in this squad. Honestly, only a real handful of players could be kept in my opinion. We need a huge rebuild and be rid of players such as Alonso, Willian, Pedro, Higuain (send him back, awful player), Zappacosta etc etc.. the list could go on. But we can’t do this can we.. we have landed ourselves with a transfer ban and with no pre-planning apart from Pulisic, we are stuck with this squad of players and hope the youth we have can somehow adapt to the Premier League and we can get Top 4 again? A massive ask in my opinion.

We need 2 new full backs, Azpi just hasn’t cut it this season and Alonso/Emerson aren’t exactly World Class which is what we need at this club. Reece James has huge potential but has now got seriously Injured and he may still need some time to be given games right at the very top. He had an awesome first season with Wigan in the Championship, maybe 1 more season with a lower Prem team would help him..

We need wingers and good ones.. We have Hudson-Odoi (possibly out for the year) and Pulisic.. I am not even counting Willian or Pedro, they’ve had their time at Chelsea but we need to move on. Both in their 30s and ultimately they stunted CHO growth into the 1st team this year, even Sarri said he didn’t know who to drop for him because they are supposed ‘Superstars’. Pulisic I hope will be good but he won’t fill the boots of Hazard. We need to get more, if Sane is available, why can’t we hijack that? What about James Rodriguez or Ziyech from Ajax. It’s not football manager I know but we need an upgrade.

We need a Striker, please get a world class striker. We have gone from Didier Drogba and Diego Costa, Born winners who bully and torment teams so much that they don’t want to play us to Giroud who is good in Cups or Higuain who to put it frank is overweight, lazy and not good enough for the Premier League. If only we had broken the bank for a player like Jovic..

The old Chelsea would of gone for these big deals but now we don’t? Is that because of all the reasons above? An owner restricting his spending, no sporting director to convince players to come, no manager currently in place, an aging poor team that can no longer compete to win the Premier League and the Champions League?

VAR too Far?

How much reliance are we going to give to VAR?

Now there will be a lot of people either side of this argument and I’m going to keep this unbiased (hopefully). The penalty in the 1st minute of the Champions League Final between Liverpool & Spurs has caused a lot of controversy. Fans of either side have their opinions and the neutrals are split, myself included.

Sissoko appeared to be pointing/ordering at a team mate as Mane crossed the ball from about 1 metre away.. on first viewing on TV it looked like it hit his hand but on closer viewing it’s hits his chest first and rolls down.

The letter of the law (12):

It is usually an offence if a player: touches the ball with their hand/arm when: the hand/arm has made their body unnaturally bigger. the hand/arm is above/beyond their shoulder level (unless the player deliberately plays the ball which then touches their hand/arm)..

So, with Sissoko pointing and having his arm away from his body, it IS in an unnatural position and it is making his body bigger.. however, it hits his chest first? The photo very clearly shows this so where does VAR come into this?

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The decision went to VAR and on the biggest stage of them all, with the whole world watching, this ‘independent panel’ of referees decided that he referee was correct, even with the unlimited amounts of angles that they have on offer. Couldn’t they see that Mane was so close to Sissoko, there was no way of moving out of the way? Could they use common knowledge and decide this? Was he stopping a goal-scoring opportunity? Mane was simply going to cross the ball and hope to create a chance. All of this added to the drama but it also has left a sour taste for Spurs fans who feel it ruined their chance of the biggest footballing trophy of all.

 

Anyway, away from this decision, VAR is changing the game. We were told that VAR would eradicate human error, it would stop the doubt and the decisions which could prove costly to all teams. In my opinion, it’s opened the game up to more disrepute.

One piece of technology that has changed the game for the better is Goal-Line Technology. This is a huge positive to the Premier League and the one and only example that needs to be given to signify this came at the Etihad this season where Liverpool somehow missed out on a goal by millimetres which ultimately could have been the Premier League Trophy defining moment.

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Had John Stones not made that clearance, had Goal-Line technology not been available to clear up all doubt then we could of found ourselves with all sorts of question marks hanging over the Champions head. From watching it live, this looked a clear goal. So why is VAR not so conclusive?

Lots of examples available but I will look at few..

Offsides –

Harry Kane was controversially given Onside by VAR in a cup tie against Chelsea back in January. The striker ran through, was wiped out by the Goalie and a penalty was given and converted. However, on reflection, angles came to light after the game which clearly showed Kane’s top half offside… again, one up for debate and not remove the ‘doubt’ that VAR was supposedly there to do. The only part of the body that isn’t possible to score with is your hand/arm. His head is shown to be past the ‘VAR Line’ so why wasn’t this given? Why didn’t VAR have the correct angle for this decision?

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Penalties (for holding) –

World Cup 2018. 3 words which are key to VAR and this example. Never has a World Cup had so many penalty incidents – the amount given was up 174% in fact. A huge increase and it had its highs and lows.. for England it was good. Maguire, Kane and co were man-handled in most games and penalties kept being given.. there is a fine line between holding (football is a contact game remember) and dragging an opponent down. Where should the game of Football draw the line? VAR will highlight that shirt holding/tugging but isn’t that part of the game that we love? Obviously to an extent but still, if we take this side of the game out of it and allow people to have a clear run or not compete for a header then are we taking the competitive nature out of the game?

Diving/Contact in the area –

Now this is a controversial section. One which you shout for if it’s your attacker or you throw the TV out the window if it’s against you.. a player goes down in the box and the referee heads to VAR. Slow motion zooms in the contact area and you see the slightest contact, maybe even a shoe lace brushing an opponent. To the letter of the law, it’s contact and the defender didn’t get the ball and it’s a penalty.. but do we really want this to happen? As soon as an attacker gets to a goal threatening area, defenders will be afraid to make any contact and instead of making tackles they will simply just try and block or deflect away. Common sense needs to prevail. Diving is cheating and we need to be clear that contact needs to strong enough to cause someone to go down and fall over.

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VAR in the Premier League.

We all love a big crunching tackle, but as we all know, what was acceptable back in the 80s and 90s is not possible now. The game has changed in a way where it is more about flair and skill rather than passion and brute force. Some people love it, some people loathe it. VAR will be introduced into the Premier League this season, expect less big tackles and a more sterilised version of Football as managers ask players to rein it in to ensure they have 11 men on the pitch and give them a better chance of winning.

One worry I have is the infrastructure that we have in place. People have probably seen the wonky lines we currently get on the photos and in turn then more doubt around the decision. Does the English Stadia have the network in place to catch all angles and aid VAR to the extent that it needs? American Football are huge stadiums, all with cameras that follow the play overhead and capture all angles. The Premier League does not have this sort of access at all stadiums apart from a small handful of Champions League / Top 6 clubs. I can’t imagine Turf Moor or Carrow Road being able to have this set up in place so will VAR be successful on potentially trophy deciding decisions.

Are we changing our game for the better or worse? There are arguments for both sides. I would hate for our game to become reliant on computers and technology and the ‘fun’ aspect is removed. Bad decisions are swings and roundabouts in football. Every team gets bad calls against them and then the following week will pick up a call in their favour. It gives us talking points and is part of the highs and lows of being a passionate fan. Waiting 2 minutes for a VAR decision to be made can stop celebrations or you’ve just fallen down 5 rows and sent limbs flying everywhere for no reason.

In my honest opinion, use VAR with common sense. Goal-Line technology, mistaken identity, Clear penalties that are NOT given (allow the ref to use his common sense and instinct) and potential horror challenges which get punished incorrectly.

Magic of the FA Cup?

Once again, Congratulations to Manchester City for winning the FA Cup and completing the Domestic treble for the first time in history. However this final seemed a lot different to the neutral. Many of us will have an opinion on the FA Cup, some love it but for me the spark is fading. Now that isn’t me being negative because my team weren’t in the final, a cup final occasion is always special and I was lucky enough to be a part of a winning one last season but that day at Wembley doesn’t paper over the cracks that are beginning to appear amongst the fans.

The fairy-tale stories from the FA Cup are what make it special. Every year something happens unexpectedly which can give memories for life to players and fans of teams who cause a shock. This is what makes it so special. I’m sure the players of Sutton Utd in 1989 thought the magic was alive and kicking after beating Coventry City or when Wigan Athletic scored a late winner in the cup final in 2012 via a Ben Watson header.

My only gripe is as mentioned in a previous blog, the standard between teams at the top and bottom of the football pyramid is now astronomical due to the money at the top of the game and not much filtering down. Apart from true magical stories such as Wigan in 2012 and Portsmouth in 2007, nobody outside of the monopoly of Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool have won the FA Cup since Everton in 1994/95. Alongside of that, these teams in my opinion aren’t respecting the competition or the magic of the FA cup due to other commitments such as winning leagues or competing in European competitions which are on at the same time as the FA Cup run in.

It’s the dream of so many lower league teams to draw the big clubs away from home. A once in a lifetime opportunity which nobody can take away from them.. but then they may turn up and play the oppositions kids or B team. Big teams are willing to risk the loss in the FA Cup to concentrate on other competitions which might be more advantageous in terms of revenue and playing European football.

Could the FA Cup go through a mix up? What would make teams take this seriously? Obviously I am not saying that every FA Cup game has to be full strength, there is such a thing as squad rotation which is done in the other competitions too but when Managers say ‘Ahh it’s the FA Cup and we’re only playing X’ let’s make 11 changes and we should still be fine.

I asked for people’s opinions on what may bring the ‘magic’ back. A lot of suggestions came from offering the Final Champions League spot to the winner or Runner up.. This could be a positive and would maybe be an ‘easier’ route for a team to go for the win and play their better teams to get in European football. It would also mean that with only 3 places available for the Champions League in the Premier League competition, it would arguably make that more competitive too. Take this season for example, Chelsea managed to grab 3rd on the last game of the season, Spurs and Arsenal who came 4th and 5th would’ve missed out.. Spurs lost in the 4th round to Crystal Palace with arguably only 4 first team regulars playing (Dier, Vertonghen, Trippier, Moura) and Arsenal went out to Manchester United but in all fairness both teams went nearly full strength and it wasn’t meant to be.

Another suggestion which cropped up would be to remove the Top 6 from the competition completely. This in turn would potentially make the possibility of advancing to the latter stages of the competition even better for lower league teams and in turn give teams more hope and desire to push for the win. I’m sure the big 6 would have a say in that and would not want to be missing out on this lucrative, traditional competition but they do get all the joy and money out of the Europa League and Champions League..

A simple change which surely everyone agrees on is that Wembley should NOT host the Semi-Finals. My personal opinion is that every year 2 stadiums should be selected for the Semi-Finals in advance and it gets rotated round a select number of stadiums all over England each year. Obvious choices would be the classic Villa Park and Old Trafford. These were the original choices for Semi-Finals before reaching the Old Wembley for the Final. This creates an amazing atmosphere, more fans get to visit different stadiums but also it makes the final a monumental occasion. If you’ve been to the Semi at Wembley, you then turn up to the final at Wembley and you kind of already know what it’s about and you don’t get the same buzz or wow factor that comes with a final.

Secondly, The cost of going to Wembley is an absolute disgrace, so having 2 trips there within a few weeks of each other is killing the modern day fan. The semi-final prices ranged from £30 to £80. The FA Cup final tickets, the exact same seats in the same stadium magically shoot up to £45 to £145. Incredible when you think a typical family of 4 who may want to go for the mid/good tickets because they don’t want to be sat in the gods at the poorly designed Wembley will be facing a cost of £410 (2 adults, 2 under 18s in Category 2) and that is on top of the semi-final cost of the same family of £240. Nice £650 for the average family to experience a trip to Wembley and that’s before you pay astronomical prices for a bottle of coke (£3.70 for the standard £1 bottle at your local shop) or a pint of beer for £6.50 and the list could go on..

Ultimately, The FA are leeching off of the fans who love their football club and would not want to miss out on a special occasion if it doesn’t happen very often. If this is being treated as a business which it clearly is, then they should be clear about this. However, they are getting millions and millions out of sponsorship such as Emirates to have their name at this iconic sporting event. They are getting millions from TV broadcasting across the whole world. They are getting millions from revenue up and down the country every Saturday in the club competitions but this money is not being used to subsidise loyal fans supporting their club or even as an alternative, it is not being used to support Grassroots football or lower/non-league clubs to improve facilities & Coaching to provide a future for the next generation.

This money is going towards the overspend on Wembley, the £1billion stadium that has since been trumped in so many ways by Tottenham Hotspur by designing a stadium that is arguably the best in the world. Something that Wembley most definitely isn’t. I have been, lots. I have done the stadium tour and seen most parts and although they have tried to replicate the tradition that was once there, it falls short and so just like the FA Cup at the moment, it has lost it’s magic.