Managerial uncertainty affects your team’s form

If your football team manager is sacked, how long would it take to appoint another manager? Three games? Four games? It seems like David Unsworth has been at troubled Everton forever, and he can’t stop the sinking ship from listing.

Unsworth was appointed caretaker manager after Ronald Koeman was axed. Of course, it would be fair to give him a fair few games to try and stabilise the rot, and he would have done well to have secured a few draws, but Everton under him seem no better than they were under his predecessor.

When Koeman left, Unsworth fancied himself in the running for the vacant position, announcing that it would be a great honour to be in charge of the club he had played for. It seemed he was given a chance to show his mettle, and while pundits suggested he was the right person, being Everton through and through, it now seems the job is too big for him. He is no longer in the running for the job, and as he admitted, the “sooner this gets sorted out the better”.

The problem with a managerial crisis is that it develops uncertainty, and this filters down to the players. From the moment a manager is rumoured to be axed, and the news is picked up by the media, the constant back page media storm undermines the manager’s credibility. Who will listen to him, and take instruction, if the rumours are he is going? Players will probably unconsciously start aligning themselves with who they think is next in line. And if they have a bad run of results, this negative run and doubt continues, and leads to more decay. You can usually feel the sinking of the ship before you see the gaping hole.

But delay over appointing a new manager does not address the doubt. And that is the position Unsworth finds himself in. The players may not take instruction from him either, because he may be gone soon.

Did the Everton board not learn a lesson from Arsenal the previous season? The protracted situation regarding Arsene Wenger’s contract renewal proved so divisive that it affected everyone around the team, fans and players, and caused a late season dip in form. Let’s face it, when planes are flying Wenger Out banners, do you think players on the field can give their best? Did it make a difference mentally? Of course it did. When a manager is undermined by the press or any circumstances, the players don’t give their best for him.

Would stating publicly that Unsworth is only temporarily in charge help his cause? Not really. But it would help if the board told the players that whoever was in charge of the team would have the power to decide if they remained with the team past the transfer window in January, or got traded to another less desirable team in the Chinese or Scottish League, doomed to travel to far flung places, playing in front of unknown crowds or going to cold freezing places. Now that would get the players focussed.

Speed or possession? The most important stat

Is football a game of speed? Is the speed of the game increasing? When you watch a game of football, sometimes a stat flashes up telling you how much distance a player has run, or his fastest sprint. You might be forgiven in thinking that speed is certainly not the essence of the game, if you watched the game from five years ago. Certainly the Spanish teams made a meal and influence on the game in what they called possession football, where the players kept the ball, passed it among themselves, then slowly walked it up the opponents half and then tried to thread it into the goal with some one on one skill. This concept of tiki-taka was copied by various teams across the continent until Spain were demolished by Holland 5-0.

Newspapers ran the headline “Tiki Taka is dead” and from then on the teams slowly transitioned to a different kind of play, a counter attacking style, waiting for the team with ball control to run themselves out of energy while launching short bursts of attack themselves. You didn’t need to have the ball for long periods, all you had to do was be clinical and make the most of your limited opportunities. And then defend and frustrate your opponents as they burned up their own energy trying to think of ways and ideas to get past your walls of players. It is the game plan teams employ against the football club Arsenal, by holding out against them defensively while they burn their own energy, both physical and mental, trying to probe for a link; then counterattacking and trying to make Arsenal continue wasting their energy. Having the ball and not being able to do anything with it can be very frustrating, and the more possession you have, the more it works against you.

This counter attacking of football bears many resemblances to modern life. Modern life seems to operate on two speeds, a slow, waiting for things to happen speed, and one that has got to be very responsive and reactive. It is like the world of home buying, for example. According to The Property Ombudsman Service, this waiting for long periods without much movement, followed by a short period where everything has to happen very quickly puts the average homebuyer under a lot of stress. It may or may not be a stretch to equate home buying with the world of football but certainly some similarities can be drawn.

What happens when two counter attacking teams play each other? Is it end to end action, or do they gift it to the other so they can play their normal game?

The modern game happens so fast and hinges on split second decisions. Sometimes coaches point to incidences on the field that could have changed the course of the game; an offside decision, an outside goal, a penalty that should have been awarded or otherwise, and while some may be attempts to deflect criticism on the players, some may be true.

But sometimes it is not on the field incidents that coaches refer to as if they changed the course of the game. This weekend Liverpool manager J├╝rgen Klopp charged that had he been allowed to bring on substitutes when he wanted to, he would have emerged triumphant at Chelsea. Instead his side conceded an equaliser before the substitutes were allowed on the field in the closing stages of the game.

You can question the decisions in the game when the result didn’t go your way, especially if the game changer happened in the closing stages. But it is easy to overlook the remainder of the game and overlook the chances to kill the game that were not taken.

Football is a simple game. Start on level terms, then score more goals than they do to win. How much possession you have is irrelevant. You could score from the kickoff and then set up to defend for the rest of the game. Whether you play possession football, or counterattacking football, 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 3-5-2, just make sure the ball ends up more times in your opponent’s net. That is the most important stat.

Openly-gay football player? Media reporting only exacerbates gender differences

Gender orientation is a recurrent subject in the news – it keeps coming back and forth whenever there is a lull in politics, natural disasters or whatever pads out what we call a newspaper – more like an advert supplemented by news. Before the advent of the visual media and the internet, the newspapers had more authority, but now with more television channels, websites and free newspapers to fill, the journalist’s rule is that rather than find news, you have to create it. You have to take what previously existed, give it a bit of slant, repackage it and sell it again. Is this an agreeable procedure? If the news were a present, it would be the equivalent of wrapping up last year’s Christmas present in a different piece of wrapping paper before giving it to someone else. Is that agreeable? You decide.

Coming back to the point, if you keep observing the news you will notice that in lull periods there is always this theme of gender orientation resurfacing. “Will the Premier League have its first openly gay player?” Why does the media keep reporting the piece of stale news? The reason of course is that firstly it sells newspapers. Newspapers are like the reverse of food – the longer you leave a piece of news, the more freshness it gains when it resurfaces on a piece of printed paper.

You can find other similar themes – one is the perennial one of women in higher positions. Perhaps women in corporate management positions feel obliged to give other women a similar lift up the corporate ladder, to do them a favour by repeating that inequality mantra over and over again in the hope that eventually in any company there will be a 50-50 split.

It is of course an unlikely situation to materialise. While women may strive for equal divisions using the argument that a woman is one half of the gender makeup, males could equally point out that if we were to use the world’s population as a barometer, any company would have more males than females because there are more men in the world than women.

But harping over gender differences isn’t doing any one any favours – it’s just a lot of talk to end up at nowhere. (I’ve just given you a demonstration here – rambled so much just to get to this point.) And in football, pointing out and anticipating the first openly-gay player with as much expectation as holding out for the second coming certainly isn’t helping the gay community. Firstly, the media’s rambling about differences in orientation does not help make the football sport more inclusive, but only widens it because we continually read about human differences. And because newspapers continually bring in this recurrent theme to fill pages, it conditions the human mind to think it is all talk that amounts to nothing.

Brighton and Hove Albion, a club in the English Premier league, have a large following from the LGBT community. But there is little raa-raa about them having gay fans, nor do the club make special mention of it – a football fan is a football fan. But the gender differences only become an issue when people want to make an issue out of it. Brighton is a town that has traditionally been associated with more liberal thinking and rival football fans are happy to taunt the football club on the basis of this history. But within the club itself, it is not a problem – only in football rivalries, such as during a match with Leicester fans.

So the media should really stop fixating on openly-gay players in the Premier League because the overemphasis on this issue prevents people from coming out. There is almost too great a burden to bear, to be the first person; to have references further down the line as the first openly-gay player. But the media isn’t really concerned with highlighting gender differences to bring about equality. It is more concerned with rehashing old news to fill pages. If it were concerned about equality, it would merely stop reporting on this issue because everything eventually settles into normal acceptance; left alone, gender differences would not matter. But the media reporting only creates subtle antagonism which in turns fuels more angry discussion. Good for newspapers though – it gives them plenty to talk about.

Everton striker’s ban only increases call for video ref

Oumar Niasse was banned after being found guilty of “exaggerating contact in order to deceive”. The Everton striker was the first player in the top flight of English football to receive such a ban, although two other players in the lower leagues had also been similarly charged.

For those trivia buffs among us, Carlisle forward Shaun Miller was the first.

Niasse was found by a three-man panel to have exaggerated the impact of a normal contact under a challenge by Scott Dann in a game against Crystal Palace. The resulting penalty brought the game level at 1-1, and when Palace went ahead later on in the game, the equaliser from Everton was scored by … you guessed it, Niasse himself. The match finished 2-2, and there were various talking points:

Had Niasse been cautioned for the dive, the match might have taken on a different twist.

The tactics of the game change according to the flow of the game – that is what managers are for, to make changes to enable the team to best respond to how the game is developing. Had there been no 1-1 scoreline, and Niasse on a yellow, one might feel Crystal Palace might have played a more attacking game, instead of playing with caution in other to gain new boss Roy Hodgson a point.

And how terrible for the game that Niasse scored the goal that forced the draw. Crystal Palace might be correct in thinking that Niasse caused them two points in the grand scheme of things.

Would it hurt so much to have a video referee like they already do in sports such as rugby and American football? The pace of the modern football game has picked up so much that things happen quickly and decisions that could affect the game have to be made without the benefit of hindsight or review.

The argument against video referees is that it slows down the game. But this is really nonsense, and where football could take a leaf out of the book of sports such as tennis and American football. Each opposing player is granted three challenges in tennis, so over the course of a game there are a maximum of six stoppages. But the game can hinge on one or two major decisions going the wrong way, so players normally play on and leave dubious decisions early on in the game to save up of challenges they might need later.

In American football, both teams have three challenges. If a team is unsuccessful in overturning a decision with their challenge, they lose a timeout. The video referee has a certain amount of time to make a conclusive decision, and if the video replay is inconclusive then the ruling on the field stands.

A video official would not hurt football. Each team could be given two challenges in a game – either one in each half, or to be used at any point. It would save debates such as whether a ball crossed the goal line, whether a hand ball was deliberate, or whether there was an off the ball incident. In the same weekend that Niasse dived, Arsenal’s Shkodran Mustafi scored from an offside position after a free kick gained from a fair challenge. Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany should have been sent off in the second minute. Did those decisions have any significant impact in the game?

You bet. It is time to bring on the video referee as part of the evolving game.