Fattening up the calf for slaughter

Is Manchester United defender Luke Shaw back in the manager’s good books again? The left back, who has been prone to injuries for much of his career and had his attitude criticised by manager Jose Mourinho, had a good game against European opposition on Tuesday. He played the full game after having only played 48 minutes all season. It was his first start since April, and the left back, who became one of the world’s most expensive teenagers when he joined Manchester United, helped the Red Devils beat the Russian team CSKA Moscow 2-1 at their home ground Old Trafford. Summarising Shaw’s performance, the Portuguese manager offered praise in saying “He was very dangerous”. There was also optimism for the left back for the future as the manager declared that if he continued playing like that he would get more games.

The relationship between Shaw and the manager has not often been the best. It was reported a couple of times that they were not on speaking terms. The player found his mental attitude the subject of the manager’s criticism on more than one occasion. “The problem is in his head,” Mourinho once famously declared, likening the player’s attitude to his rehabilitation of his injury to be a poor one, one that did not honour the red shirt he put on.

It seemed as if Shaw was on his way out, with clubs such as West Ham reportedly interested. The latter are suffering from a weak defence that is leaking in more goals than they are scoring, and had been seen as one of the clubs where Shaw’s talent, previously on display at Southampton, would shore up the backline. The Hammers would have also benefited from a player hungry to prove himself and his doubters wrong.

It is difficult to remember that Shaw has many good years ahead of him. He is only 24, in a sport where players hit their prime around three or four years later. Like many others that came through the ranks of the southern coastal club, such as Theo Walcott of Arsenal, the players of the club seem to be peaking early and find trouble recovering their form after injury. Like Walcott, Shaw is seeking to get enough playing time in order to make with headway at an England call-up.

Should the often injured left back expect to invigorate his previously fading Manchester United career?

This website says no. In fact, this site would gamble its life savings that come January, Luke Shaw will no longer be with the Red Devils.

So why did Jose Mourinho give Shaw hope for the future then? Make no mistake, just like a used car salesman buff shines a car liberally with wax, and then boasts about its supposed qualities to attract buyers, Jose Mourinho gave Luke Shaw a full game to demonstrate to potential buyers that he can last the full outing, would be a potentially safe buy – considering his luck with injuries – and he hopes to attract a bid for him in the January window.

What would happen in January if Shaw found himself on his way out and confronted Mourinho about this? He’d be told it would be good for his development, more playing time might get him back into the England team, and he’d be sold promise and hope.

The Manchester team has weaknesses at the back. They have a potent midfield and potent attack. They need to spend money in January to shore to the backline. And who will fund the purchase of incoming players?

The new and improved, dangerous Luke Shaw. According to Mourinho, he’s that good – so good he wants to get rid of him.

Is this only speculation? Check back in January. Shaw might be funding the sales of another team’s kit.

Football Overload? Conte using deflection as an outlet

Is there a thing such as schedule overload? Chelsea boss Antonio Conte seems to think so. He has recently complained – protested actually – about the close scheduling of Chelsea’s matches. The Blues recently had to play Liverpool, Qarabag and Newcastle all within the span of seven days, including the round trip to Azerbaijan. Conte made it clear that he was not actually complaining about the scheduling of his side’s matches, as much as he was protesting that his team would not get as much rest as their opponents. He even went as far as to suggest a conspiracy is on the cards within the Premier League, a bias against Chelsea repeating as champions.

Is there any truth in it? Would the Premier League actually benefit with a new team winning it? Perhaps. It gives the sense that any team has a chance. (Although considering Manchester City are already running away with the title and opening up a huge gap between them and the rest of the pack, it may seem that every one is really fighting for second.) The idea that any team can win fuels hope within the fans, and it is this hope that compels people to support their team to give it the extra edge to win. It is the idea that their team can win that makes people come out to watch games. If you were going to watch a match where your team had no chance, would you go to the stadium, shiver in the cold, get rained on, spend money on a beer and pastie, just to watch them lose, or would you go to the pub, have a meal and drink for under a tenner, and watch it on Sky? Thought so. This is why Premier League bosses love it when teams like Leicester unexpectedly win the title race, it gives them the one team to quote. “All teams have a fair chance. Look at Leicester two years ago.” And this is why Premier League bosses love the FA Cup, where teams could pull off an upset. Different teams winning the league fuels the thinking that everyone has a chance. It brings fans out to watch. It gives money to the Premier League coffers instead of filling J D Wetherspoon’s.

Then again, the Premier League is not responsible for scheduling Champions League matches. Take away the Qarabag match, and what you have is two games a week apart, which seems fair. And that is why teams have more than eleven players, to have rotation players, to rotate squads around.

You can’t have equal numbers of rest days between teams as Conte claims. Otherwise all teams would have to play on the same day, which is not only logistically inconvenient, but then means teams would start complaining about playing on the early or late game and not having sufficient hours rest. Why is it logistically difficult? Well, for starters, policing resources means that teams in one region must not all play at home or there may be security risks. Imagine if Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Watford, West Bromwich and Crystal Palace all played home matches. The Metropolitan Police Force would have a fit.

Is Conte really complaining at all? One suspects he is merely deflecting attention from players, taking the media heat off them in the run up to an important part of the season. Conte railing his head off gives sports writers stuff to fill their column inches with, so that they could spend enough writing about Conte and less about his players.

So Conte’s complaints are just an attempt at deflection, like his predecessor Mourinho. But if he really feels aggrieved, he should remember that’s what he gets a fat salary for. He should perhaps remind himself of this old football joke (source here):

Question: What’s the difference between a nursery assistant and a football manager?

Answer: One gets paid a lot of money to look after children.

That’s right; Conte gets paid millions in his salary. So do those under his care. But it is time to stop whinging and start living up to the hype.

Reasons behind player motivation

In the previous post, I mentioned how managerial uncertainty affects players. I also mentioned how players are unwilling to give their best if things appear as if any manager is on his way out. Why is this so? Firstly, if you are seen to be too loyal to the old gaffer, when he is shipped out you could be too. So it makes sense, as a player, to distance yourself slightly from the manager, and this may manifest itself in the form of not listening fully to instructions, either on the field, or during team tactical talks. Of course, it is better to have any doubt about the manager eradicated, if the board make a public statement. Then the players know the manager’s way is the only way.

And what happened when news of Everton’s appointment of Sam Allardyce filtered through at Everton? They win 4-0. Against all odds they score four goals, and don’t even concede one!

The appointment of a new manager always brings a run of positive results. Why? Because it is likely that the new manager might be there for a while, so players subconsciously see it as an opportunity to impress the man, and align himself with him. In the first few matches you often see players digging deep, finding reserves they didn’t display for the previous boss. Failure to impress the new incoming boss could mean a quick exit from the first team or club.

Player motivation is also affected by externalities, even though you have to be professional and give your all on the field, and managerial in-outs are not the only factors. Sometimes you can find players performance spike in in late November or December. Arsenal’s duo of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, linked with other clubs since the summer, have recently experienced a resurgence in form. Yet not long ago they were seemingly transferring out, Sanchez to Manchester City and Ozil to Manchester United. And when news of their possible moves affected their form, the fans turned on them. Yet they are playing their best now. What has happened? Have they now decided Arsenal is their future home?

Actually, no. They are playing to impress. Just not their existing boss, or any incoming one. Arsene Wenger is not going anywhere yet. But Sanchez and Ozil are playing to attract interest from elsewhere, to earn themselves a trade in time for the January window.

But Sean Dyche at Burnley seems to have the best of most worlds. The owner likes him, he and his team evaluate themselves on performances and not results, knowing they are not going to win every game. And his players have heart, and fight for him. But maybe they are just fighting for interest from the big clubs.

Player motivation. It’s a funny thing.