Hot feet before they even got wet

You’ve got to hand it to Phil Neville.

Brother of the failed Valencia manager Gary Neville, with a grand total of one game of managerial experience, at a club he partly owns (Salford), you can’t have said he was that good. But how did he end up as manager of the England women’s football team? Was it because Ryan Giggs was no longer available? Neville had one game more management experience than his former Manchester United team mate, and it seemed like England were trying to emulate the Welsh Football Association in plucking Giggs out of nowhere to manage the Welsh football team. At least Ryan Giggs is a proven winner on the field. Off the field, well … he is reportedly despised by his own family for his affair with his brother’s missus … but that’s his life out of football and no one is judging.

Philip Neville? Now managing the England women’s football team, replacing Mark Sampson who was fired for his comments around Eniola Aluko, supposedly racial ones. Sampson lasted a few games after Hope Powell left the job, but while it was controversial, at least it didn’t surface until well in the job. Neville? First day on the job, and he’s already in trouble/

Why did the FA choose to appoint Neville despite knowing he had tweeted sexist comments about women on social media? One of his tweets on the account @fizzer18 said “When I said morning men I thought the women would of been busy preparing breakfast/getting kids ready/making the beds”, which somehow seemed to get 3555 retweets and 1858 likes. Other users also mentioned comments in which he joked he had “just battered the wife”.

More worrying, how is it someone wth no meaningful experience, let alone experience in women’s football, was chosen to lead England? In addition, despite the recent hoo-hah about the Rooney Rule, which states the FA should interview one applicant from various backgrounds, this was not the case. Neville was simply appointed manager.

It is difficult to accept there were no black, Asian, minority ethnic or female applicant. How is it possible that the FA could not promote a prestigious job to anyone else from these backgrounds? And how is it that Neville’s lack of record in management qualified him above other candidates?

And how did the FA miss the background checks?

The FA has not had much luck in appointing managers for either the men or women’s team. Mark Sampson’s problems are well documented. Sam Allardyce lasted one game before being caught out by his comments about agents and bungs.

But those short tenures before encountering problems are long in comparison to Neville’s. He has not even got his feet warm in the job and already he is facing problems on the first day of his job. The first day!

Is there a vendetta against him, like there seemed to be with Ryan Giggs? The Welshman’s appointment was similarly troubled by accusations he had not played enough for his country – even old team mate Clayton Blackmore had to defend him by saying it was Alex Ferguson who stopped him from turning up for Welsh friendlies.

Neville has since deleted his Twitter account, but the historic social media comments, which border on the misogynistic and sexist, do not hide the fact that it is seemingly inappropriate for such a man to be managing the England women’s team. Would you had made Hitler mayor of Palestine?

Despite all this, it has been mentioned that Neville will not be charged for those remarks.

Charged? If those remarks were punishable as chargeable offences, then he should have been charged before he was put in charge of the women’s team.

Chargeable, no. Inappropriate, yes. And the FA could have saved itself a lot of trouble by appointing an ex-player from the women’s team, instead of just settling for a high-profile figure.

Too high-profile, it appears.

Sanchezzzzzzz and er … Ozil

Is the saga of Alexis Sanchez ever going to end? Finally, the transfer that never was in the summer may be replaced by another transfer that … well, is still in the works at the time of writing. But the media reports about him are starting to get boring now … he would in retrospect be one of the most tweeted about in January, but it’s kind of dragged on a bit unnecessarily too long.

You can see why Arsenal’s form have stagnated – despite spending in the summer, they are still languishing out of the top four spots, a place they traditionally occupy. The transfer talk have definitely affected them and they should have just let him go and got £65 million then. Now, Sanchez will probably go for £35 million or £30 million. Has he contributed £30 million worth of effort to the team in the last six months? At a stretch, maybe he has – in the run up to the transfer window, the audition season – he has earned Arsenal a few wins and draws. But it is arguable that the talk surrounding him may have cost the team too.

The Arsenal board and Sanchez are like two grown ups going through a long drawn-out divorce battle, and the Arsenal kids are suffering while they have to live with the scrutiny of the various hypothetical situations playing out in their minds.

One particular kid is suffering. Mesut Ozil. Reportedly on the radar for Manchester United a few months ago, it is unlikely that he would be reunited with Sanchez. The hype around Manchester United landing Sanchez has almost certainly reduced the worth of Mesut Ozil in the eyes of United, and it is unlikely Ozil is going there anytime soon. Expect to see Ozil bearing the brunt of criticism again, talk of his poor body language, and him bearing the weight of the criticism directed at the team. When he remains at Arsenal, he will have turned out to be the child in the custody battle sent to live with the parent he didn’t really like.

And in a few months time, Ozil will become Sanchez 2.0, as the situation around his contract becomes the next thorny issue.

Will the form of the Arsenal team recover with the impending departure of Sanchez, the end of the custody battle? Not with Ozil.

But there may have been a shrewd deal done to get Henrikh Mkitaryan. The Armenian has skills similar to Ozil, and it may be Arsenal trying to get a replacement in early. It would be interesting though to see Ozil and Mkitaryan on opposite wings, supporting a lone striker like Lacazette, while Kolasinac and Bellerin roam the flanks. A back three protected by Xhaka and Ramsay.

And if Ozil goes, where would he be off to? Apart from China, and Paris St Germain, the usual pay day pit stops, and Fenerbahce, where his Turkish roots might endear him to the public, Ozil is likely to remain in the Premier League. And there is that one team that is so full of attacking talent, but in need of backup in case their talisman is injured; a team that needs a competent passer to deliver the balls to the attacking personnel.

Manchester City.

And Ozil would still get to live in a big city, buzzing from the adoration of fans, getting recognition for his work but without the blame that comes with losing, because they don’t lose very often, and there are plenty of others to share the blame around.

Pep Guardiola would love Ozil to make long passes the way Kevin de Bruyne does.

But Pep wouldn’t be the only one happy to have Ozil in a blue shirt.

Think about it.

Manchester City vs Manchester United.

Former teammates Sanchez vs Ozil.

Mourinho vs Pep.

Egos vs egos.

It could keep media writers in employment for years.

So Ozil to Manchester City is the summer deal that everyone wants to happen.

Sub-plots of all sorts

Arsene Wenger must at least feel some tinge of happiness.

Not because his team are still in the top six and that the chasing pack led by Burnley haven’t made up much ground.

Not because the star of the show, Alexis Sanchez, looks to have his future at the club resolved, within 48 hours, in Wenger’s words.

Not because Jack Wilshere, before his most recent injury, looked capable of reproducing the form he had in the past, and could replace the want-away Mesut Ozil.

No, no, Arsene Wenger is happy because Manchester City lost to Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola’s team headed off to Anfield on Sunday. On paper it looked like a treat for attacking football fans, with the usual sub-plots. How would Liverpool survive post-Coutinho? The Brazilian had been an instrumental part of their season so far, and now that their Fab Four of Coutinho, Mo Salah, Roberto Firminho and Sadio Mane were now relegated to a Terrific Three, how would things be? It looked as if Liverpool would suffer. But the team managed without Coutinho, who like Alexis Sanchez, played with the form of his life in the run up to the transfer window. And they eked out a win against the City visitors, in a game of goals, edging the Blues out 4-3.

The Reds actually led 4-1 at one point, before the Disappointing Defence, the back four, leaked goals in to help City muster some form of comeback. But they survived.

But why is Arsene Wenger happy that Manchester City lost?

It’s because the record of an undefeated season stays with the Arsene Invincibles. Wenger still holds a record that looks ever increasingly difficult to emulate, and his name will still be long mentioned in Premier League history.

Few can argue that Wenger has been about records recently. He stayed on at the end of last season to surpass Alex Ferguson’s record of Premier League games managed, and in this day and age of changing managers that looks like one other record that is unlikely ever to be surpassed.

Ironically, one of the players that helped ensure his record for going undefeated in a season was the ex- Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who may increasingly see a more influential role with Coutinho gone.

A few weeks ago I predicted that the longer Alexis Sanchez’s transfer saga dragged on, the worse it would be for all parties. He is no longer seen with the same eyes by City, and I also predicted another team might swoop in. Lo and behold, now Manchester United are interested. It would make for interesting sub-plots.

Ozil and Sanchez combining at Manchester United.
Jose Mourinho getting one up on his arch rival Pep Guardiola by obtaining Sanchez’s signature.

Arsene Wenger facing the ire of the Arsenal faithful by selling United a player, despite saying he would not sell to them after Robin van Persie.

Some of the Arsenal faithful feel you shouldn’t believe anything Wenger says nowadays. Last season he was coy with the press, toying around about the negotiations with his contract. And while he later admitted at the end that the protracted saga affected his team’s form, he doesn’t seem to have learnt with regards to Alexis Sanchez. One of the reasons the team is sliding further away of the top four, is that speculation plants doubt, and doubt affects form. What are Giroud and Lacazette thinking? “After all the effort we are continuing to show, why are we still behind Grumpy Sanchez?” Why is Arsene Wenger still wooing Sanchez in the hope he might stay, like an old lecherous landlord whose advances to a young female tenant – who is determined to move out when her tenancy agreement expires – have been continually rebuffed?

Wenger really needs to go, and as I have suggested, the club should bring in Ryan Giggs. He is unproven at the top level, but the Arsenal faithful will give him time because he has winning in his veins. He is young, he has energy, and is a refreshing breath of fresh air in the rank Arsenal boardroom.

And Giggs has a point to prove after being overlooked for the manager’s role at his old club.

If Manchester United do one on Arsenal by taking Sanchez and Ozil, then Arsenal could do no worse than by appointing one of the United winners to kick-start the revolution.

Dwell on that for a while.

Now everyone dares to Zlatan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has always cast himself as a strong lion.

When he was out with his latest injury, he mentioned that “lions take longer to recover”.

But speculation is rife that while his mental fortitude is there, his body may be letting him down.


And because of that, now everyone dares to Zlatan. Especially the Manchester City team who reportedly had a dig at him, provoking the post-match brawl.


It seems Zlatan is now playing the part of the hurt tiger in the commercial, being provoked – but unable to do nothing about it.


The ex-Barcelona man, who once said “If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains”, may soon find the sun setting on his career.

Oh well, there’s always the Chinese League for a big payday. And someone of Ibrahimovic’s reputation will always have a team willing to take him, not so much for his on-field prowess, but for his commercial value.

But considering his decline, maybe even the Chinese players may dare to Zlatan.

Strange headlines

My first thoughts were: “Whose head was thrown at Mourinho?” and “Why did Arteta cut it?”

Which row at Old Trafford was Mourinho sitting in when drinks were thrown at him?

Mikel Arteta cut? Wasn’t he cut from the Arsenal squad years ago?

Maybe it is all to do with disrespect.

Arsene Wenger must be rubbing his hands with glee.

He must be wishing for a road back to the Champions League via the Europa League win rather than a top four Premier League place.

Pity the tour bus still has to go via Atletico Madrid.


That may also be its last stop.

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.

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.

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.