This week’s installment of 'Extra Time' Dave Clarke takes a look at some of the managers who were in the headlines this week.
Harry Redknapp – Redknapp has somehow avoided the criticism that other managers in England receive. He deserves a lot of credit for helping Spurs qualify for this year’s Champions League and for some of his team’s performances in that competition. However, a case could be made that Spurs should be comfortably in the top four instead of now looking over their shoulder at Liverpool and possibly failing to qualify for next year’s Europa Cup. Spurs dropped 11 points against West Brom, Wigan, West Ham, Wolves and Blackpool in five of its last seven games. The team was second best in four of them. Fortunate results against Arsenal and Stoke have kept Spurs in touch with Man City for the final Champions League spot. With better team selection, better squad rotation, better tactical preparation and the signing of a forward in the January transfer window Spurs would already be out of sight. The reason they are not has nothing to do with the spending power of City, Chelsea or Liverpool and all to do with Redknapp. He is quick to accept the praise when his team does well, but needs to accept more responsibility when results have not gone his team’s way.
Arsene Wenger – The Frenchman is respected for what he has accomplished with Arsenal since he first arrived in England in 1996. However, there is a sense that because of recent results the Gunners fans are losing patience with their manager. Six weeks ago his side was in serious contention for an unprecedented (in England) quadruple. Losses to Birmingham City, Barcelona, Man United and the likes of Bolton Wanderers put paid to their Carling Cup, Champions League, FA Cup and Premier League hopes respectively. Wenger’s behavior on the sideline in those games and in post game press conferences is now the thing of legend with opposition fans. He has lost the plot and continues to blame everyone, but himself for his team’s travails. Wenger needs to take some responsibility because it was his team that threw away a four goal lead at Newcastle; it was his team that threw away a two goal lead against Spurs, not once, but twice; it was his captain that back heeled the ball on the edge of the penalty area to allow Lionel Messi to score at the Camp Nou; it was his keeper that gifted Obafemi Martins the winning goal in the Carling Cup Final; and it was his defender who needlessly gave a away a penalty against Liverpool to cost his team two points.
Neil Lennon – Lennon may yet end the season without his Celtic team winning a trophy, but the Irishman has endeared himself to the Celtic support. The manner in which he has handled the pressure of death threats to him and his family, the receipt of bullets in the mail, the vile sectarian abuse from opposition teams in general and Rangers fans in particular and the latest, a parcel bomb intercepted before delivery. The support the Celtic fans gave Lennon and his team at Kilmarnock on Wednesday was as good as any in recent memory. Celtic responded with a comfortable 4-0 win and followed it up with a scoreless draw against Rangers at Ibrox Park. Celtic is one point behind their bitter rivals, but with a game in hand and a superior goal difference and are now slight favorites for the title. Lennon was abused throughout the Rangers game with chants of “what’s it like to live in fear?” At the end of the game he saluted the Celtic fans in attendance and then cupped his ears at the Rangers fans who were booing him. Those same fans have flooded the forum boards and radio call in shows in the past 24 hours to vent their moral indignation at Lennon’s actions. The man has been abused for his 10 years in Scotland for nothing other than being Irish and a Roman Catholic and we are to believe that Rangers fans found the incident incendiary. Please!
Pep Guardiola – His Barcelona team finally lost to Real Madrid in a meaningful game, the Copa del Rey Final, albeit the least important of the major games the two teams will play this season. It was only the third time in 52 games that Guardiola’s team has failed to score. Barca did create some chances, but not to the extent they have done in previous meetings with Madrid. There were signs during the game that Guardiola was frustrated with Real’s and Jose Mourinho’s tactical approach and a reluctance to change his own team’s tactics. The Champions League semi-final against Madrid will be a fascinating contest and a real test of Guardiola’s ability as a coach. Despite winning three successive titles and one Champions League Guardiola may have to help Barcelona eliminate Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho to demonstrate that his philosophy of football is superior to his peers.
Jose Mourinho – Arsene Wenger should take notes about Mourinho’s approach to the Cope del Rey Final against Barcelona. Mourinho selected a very strong side with the tactical preparation to win the club’s first trophy in three years. The Portuguese manager understands the importance of winning silverware for the long term development of a team. His ultimate successes at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan were built on winning the likes of the UEFA Cup and Carling Cup. Success breeds success as they say. I still feel Barcelona is favored in the Champions League semifinal, but with the confidence of winning the Spanish Cup I would not be surprised if Real and Mourinho advance. Where would Arsenal be now if they had won the Carling Cup against Birmingham rather than capitulated as they did?
It was a mixed week for Manchester United. They eased through to the semi-finals of the Champions League by eliminating Chelsea, but missed out on an FA Cup Final appearance after losing to bitter rivals, Man City at Wembley. What might have been against City had Alex Ferguson played Ryan Giggs? The United legend, a real one and not some figment of the English media’s imagination, was in imperious form in the two legs against Chelsea. United missed his experience and guile against their local rivals and paid the ultimate price. Ferguson, for once, got his line up wrong.
After a run of 684 minutes without a goal Thierry Henry finally scored for the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night. His 88th minute goal completed a 3-0 win over San Jose for Henry’s team. It was the Frenchman’s third goal since joining the MLS outfit. Yes, third, and that for a designated player. At a reputed $5 million per season that works out at approximately $1.7 million per goal. What a waste of money!
Gareth Bale was named the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year in London on Sunday night. Can someone explain why? Bale might not even be the Player of the Year for Tottenham let alone in the Premier League. In a season when there was no outstanding candidate the award should have gone to Man United’s, Nemanja Vidic, or Edwin Van der Sar. A less than stellar United team will win a record 19th title on the back of some excellent performances by the Serb and the Dutchman. Bale won the PFA award because of a much hyped hat-trick against Inter Milan, a game Spurs lost. Even as a Spurs fan I think one of the United pair was more deserving of the honor.
How ironic that on the day Arsenal’s title challenge was ended, the team their manager hates the most would cruise into next month’s FA Cup Final. Arsene Wenger has derided Tony Pullis and his Stoke City team for their style of play since their return to the Premier League three years ago. After hammering Bolton Wanderers, Pullis and City are only 90 minutes away from winning a trophy, something Wenger and Arsenal have not done for six years. What were the preseason odds on Birmingham and Stoke winning silverware this year, but not Arsenal, or Chelsea for that matter?
Can someone please explain to Arsene Wenger that the referee said there would be a minimum of eight minutes of injury time against Liverpool at the Library on Sunday? Rather than blame the referee for his time keeping Wenger should point the finger at Robin van Persie for wasting time in picking up a stupid yellow card for his goal celebration, or at any one of his players who all failed to clear the ball in the build up to Liverpool’s penalty, or at Emmanuel Eboue for having another one of his aberrations that endears him to Spurs fans everywhere. As Dalglish said to Wenger, “p*** off.”
Something’s to consider as the 2010-11 season comes to its conclusion. EPL: Blackpool is in free fall as is Sunderland and it would not be a surprise to see one, or both relegated. Is Steve Bruce one of the most overrated managers in England?
Championship: Sheffield United now sits bottom of the league and already has one foot in League One. At least the Blades will have a Steel City derby against Sheff Wed to look forward to next season. Meanwhile, their former manager Neil Warnock will be back in the Premier League with Queen’s Park Rangers next season. Look out Arsene Wenger. While Cardiff City currently occupies an automatic promotion spot their Welsh rivals Swansea are comfortably in the play off positions. What a game it will be if they meet in the playoffs?
Scotland: Celtic and Rangers play their seventh and final game of the season on Easter Sunday, but the league is too close to call and will once again go to the wire.
Spain: Barcelona’s 1-1 draw at Real Madrid ensures they will be champions for the third year in a row. The Spanish Cup and Champions League games are still to come. It will be as much a battle of Mourinho against Guardiola as it will be Messi against Ronaldo.
Italy: Milan looks to have held off the challenge from Napoli and bitter rivals Internazionale to win the Scudetto. The fact that Spurs and Schalke dumped the two Milan clubs out of Europe shows the standing of Serie A this year.
During its recent home game against Wigan Athletic, Chelsea offered its young fans the chance to play free games of Xbox 360 soccer. By all accounts the computer generated play was more exciting than anything seen at Stamford Bridge this season. However, there is no truth to the rumor that of the thousands of games played; Fernando Torres still failed to score a single goal.
Prior to Monday’s Liverpool-Man City game a minutes silence in memory of the 96 people who died at Hillsborough was impeccably observed. Twenty-two years after that terrible April day in Sheffield the painful memories for football fans in general and Liverpool fans in particular have yet to abate. The fans are gone, but not forgotten. May they rest in peace!
Sports commentators are prone to hyperbole and cliché, but Eric Wynalda outdid the best of them this week. Wynalda, the former US National team player introduced Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final tie between Chelsea and Manchester United by saying “it doesn’t get any bigger than this.” Sorry Eric, but it does. Manchester United v Barcelona, Inter Milan v Milan, or Barcelona v Real Madrid are just three potential Champions League ties that are bigger, not to mention, the two semi-finals and the final.
Ray Wilkins was a great player for a number of clubs in England, Scotland and Italy. By all accounts he is a very good coach too, despite what Roman Abramovich might think. He is also an insightful television analyst as he has demonstrated throughout Fox Soccer’s coverage of the UEFA Champions League. He is also annoying when covering English teams. During the Real Madrid v Tottenham quarter-final tie he kept referring to Spurs as “we” and “us.” This despite the fact he has no connections to Spurs. He never played for the club and is not a fan. Wilkins is still a vast improvement on Tommy Smyth, but he should refrain from the jingoistic commentary.
Has Steve McManaman taken over Tommy Smyth’s role as the worst soccer analyst on ESPN? Smyth was and is hugely unpopular with knowledgeable fans of the game because of his clichéd commentary, lack of in depth analysis and getting calls blatantly wrong. McManaman is England’s answer to Smyth. The fact he played at the highest level of the game does not disguise his lack of in-depth knowledge of football. His constant reference to the game’s drinking culture is infantile. Surely ESPN can find a better analyst to put in the booth next to commentator, Ian Darke.
During last Saturday’s coverage of the West Ham United-Manchester United game ESPN made us endure the annoying Julie Foudy. Ian Darke and Steve McManaman were forced into discussing this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany with the one time US star. Darke and McManaman looked bemused as to why they were discussing the US Women’s National Team instead of United’s comeback and Wayne Rooney’s tremendous hat-trick. I am sure that most viewers shared the commentators’ sentiments. American television loves cross promotion, but surely ESPN could have found a better time to involve Foudy.
Jay Leno told a predictably clichéd joke on his late night show earlier this week. The joke centered on a deceased Colombian soccer fan. His coffin was passed down to the field at a game involving his beloved Cucuta Deportivo. The laugh line, to paraphrase the rarely funny Leno, was that the fan died watching the game. Leno forgot to add that he died while snorting cocaine supplied by the Cali Cartel.
Check out Morning Joe, a daily news program on MSNBC hosted by one time United States Congressman, Joe Scarborough. He uses his show to speak positively about soccer in general and his love of Liverpool in particular. Scarborough and ESPN’s Roger Bennett have a segment, Futbol Frenzy that runs every Monday. The two review the weekend’s English Premier League games and involve the studio guests, politicians, musicians, business leaders, etc in the discussion. The feature is a good one and shows how far soccer has come in the mainstream media.
Did you notice the realignment of the earth last Monday night? According to many in Connecticut’s media, the state became the center of the sporting world when the University of Connecticut won the NCAA Division I basketball championship in Houston, Texas. It is no such thing. There are a number of sporting events that garner the world’s attention. The NCAA basketball tournament is not one of them. Despite what the sports editors at the Hartford Courant may believe, the world was not watching UConn and could care less whether they won a national title. The eyes of the sporting world were on more important issues such as Spurs capitulation in Madrid, Fernando Torres missing a number of sitters in London, Justin Bieber wearing a Barcelona shirt and Lionel Messi opening a Facebook account.
The Champions League quarter-final tie between Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur pits two managers against each other who may have to win the cup to maintain their reputations at their respective clubs. Jose Mourinho’s Madrid lost at home to Sporting Gijon to leave bitter rivals Barcelona in pole position to retain their La Liga title. Harry Redknapp’s Spurs drew at bottom club, Wigan Athletic in the EPL to leave its top four position and a place in next year’s CL berth in peril. Mourinho was hired to knock Barcelona off its perch and now only winning the Champions League will accomplish that goal. Redknapp wants to be the next manager of England and a second successive top four finish would have enhanced his chances. Elimination by Madrid and finishing outside the top four will see his critics turn on him.....
Redknapp is the master of basking in the media limelight when things go well and deflecting blame when it does not. While Spurs have been the entertainers in the Champions League and restored the club’s reputation abroad they have flattered to deceive at home in the EPL. In their last four games against Wigan, West Ham, Wolves and Blackpool, the four bottom clubs, Spurs has picked up three points from 12. Those dropped points are the difference between Spurs chasing Manchester City and Chelsea for a top four spot instead of the other way around. Redknapp’s tactical ineptness and poor squad management has been a major reason for the dropped points and he should be held more accountable for his team’s performances…..
Sunderland’s, Steve Bruce and West Ham United’s, Avram Grant are two managers who sing from a similar hymn book as Redknapp. Both have consistently blamed officials for their teams’ failures this season. So having watched the Mackems and the Irons capitulate to Man City and Man United respectively, are they willing to accept some responsibility for their teams’ losses and current standings?....
The United States played out a disappointing one goal loss to Paraguay in rainy Nashville, Tenn. on Tuesday night. A draw may have been a fair result for the amount of possession the US enjoyed and the chances they created. Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Bornstein all had poor games for the US. Bornstein’s performance may cost him a place in the upcoming squad for Spain and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. But one player who enhanced his reputation was Tim Ream and this despite being responsible for the winning goal. Ream is very composed in possession and one of the best passing defenders the US has ever produced. If the young New York Red Bulls star can learn to defend at the highest level he can provide the USA with a ball playing central defender, a necessity in the modern international game…..
I am not a Wayne Rooney fan and it has nothing to do with him being English, or playing for Man United. Having said that, I think there is something about Rooney that suggests he can reestablish himself as being world class for both club and country. And it has nothing to do with the hat trick he scored against West Ham this weekend, or the manner of his first two goals, a spectacular free kick and a sublime finish. I am more impressed by his all round game and especially the range of passing he has shown in recent games. His goals, such as his overhead kick against Man City, or his explosive temper have garnered a lot of attention and have overshadowed some excellent link up play for United. He played two balls to Antonio Valencia against West Ham that will be overlooked in the highlight reel, but were world class in their execution. Rooney may still be considered a forward, but he offers United much more than goals right now…..
The English women’s team showed their male counterparts how it should be done when they beat the USA 2-1 at Brisbane Road in London. The Americans, despite being #1 in the FIFA rankings will have a difficult time regaining their world title in Germany this summer. Brazil and Germany will challenge the US to win the tournament while England will be a threat in a possible quarter-final or semi-final match up. Pia Sundhage will deserve a lot of credit if her team returns from Germany as champions.
Cobi Jones, Eddie Pope and Ernie Stewart were named as the latest inductees into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. I know the three players represented the US with some distinction, but are they really worthy of being enshrined in the Hall of Fame?....