Monthly Archives: February 2015

Reputations hanging in the balance at Villa Park

 Football - Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United

There are plenty with a point to prove as the former Spurs man takes over from Paul Lambert…

You may already be aware, but Tim Sherwood does in fact hold the record for the highest win % of any Tottenham manager in the Premier League era. Higher than his predecessor, Andres Villas-Boas, by a whopping 5.4%. Higher than Martin Jol, too.

Sherwood also has a better PL win % at Tottenham than Harry Redknapp, the man who guided Spurs to the coveted fourth position in the league on two occasions.

But you probably knew that already. It was no secret.

From that statistical viewpoint, it might be fair to say that Sherwood could be considered a downright success as Tottenham boss. He won five of his first six Premier League games as manager, straight off the back of a 5-0 home defeat by Liverpool, which ended the short reign of Villas-Boas.

He even reinvigorated the erratic, disinterested Emanuel Adebayor, who had vanished during the tenure of AVB. Sherwood gave Harry Kane his first Premier League start. Another axiomatic success.

Yet despite all these compelling positives, it is hard to believe that Sherwood really changed Tottenham for the better. His brand of blood, sweat and tears football and his adherence to 4-4-2 didn’t damage the club, but it didn’t catapult it forward either.

AVB was sacked with Tottenham in seventh position and eight points off Arsenal at the top of the table. Tottenham, under Sherwood, finished the season one place higher in sixth, 10 points off Arsenal in fourth and 17 points of Manchester City in first.

There was never a sustained Champions League push, unlike many previous years. There were humiliating thrashings, too. A 5-1 defeat at home to City, a 4-0 away to defeat to Chelsea and a 4-0 mauling at Anfield.

Tottenham were beaten 2-0 at the Emirates in the third round of the cup. They were beaten at home by West Ham at home in the Quarter-finals of the League Cup, shortly after Sherwood was placed in charge. They were undone by Benfica in the last 16 of the Europa League.

The fortunes of Spurs didn’t take a drastic turn upwards.

This is not meant as a scathing personal attack on Sherwood himself, either. There were good wins during his reign too. It is worth pointing out he took the Spurs under 21’s to the final off the inaugural under-21 PL crown as Technical Director of the club.

He may turn out to be exactly what Villa need.

But Randy Lerner isn’t appointing a proven winner, or a proven loser for that matter. He is appointing a managerial rookie.

This is Tim Sherwood’s first sustained chance to prove his worth, and he could do with a few of his new players following suit.

Villa’s malaise has lasted too long now. It has lasted long enough for this to be their fourth relegation battle on the spin and perhaps the most perilous yet. 

It may be down to Randy Lerner’s lack of interest, his insistence on selling the club, but you sense there is more to the Villa Park conundrum than just that.

Villa haven’t exactly been afraid of spending money in recent times. Players such as Christian Benteke, Carlos Sanchez, Leandro Bacuna, Jores Okore, Libor Kozak, Ron Vlaar, Ashley Westwood and the forgotten Charles N’Zogbia have all cost substantial money.

Yet a sense of mediocrity has pervaded the club since the reign of Alex McLeish and continued under fellow Scot Lambert, with the empty blue seats painting their own story.

Both left with a win percentage under 30%, and Lambert’s team became so hopeless in front of goal towards the end that they basically gave up on the notion of scoring altogether.

But the fault can’t simply lie with McLeish and Lambert, as dour as their sides seemed to be. It has come to the point where many of Villa’s players either have to prove their worth, or risk ruining their careers once and for all.

Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark are both young centre halves still learning their trade, but they must begin to eradicate their error-strewn ways.

Fabian Delph, Ashley Westwood and Tom Cleverly must all develop a method that allows them to contribute to Villa’s attacking play, whether it be a goal or an assist. Their collective failure to help Villa create something that isn’t a counter attack has weighed the team down heavily.

Tom Cleverly, exiled from Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United, looks a lost soul in a struggling midfield, haunted by his ultimate failure at Old Trafford. His creative output has simply deteriorated.

Charles N’Zogbia, hampered by injuries and a lack of form, is still yet to shine at Villa Park since he joined in 2011. Andreas Weimann’s career has begun to stall, as has Leandro Bacuna’s.

 There won’t be many strikers envious of Benteke, whose indifferent form is intrinsically linked to Villa’s all-round lack of attacking threat. The Belgian may be hoping a good few months under Sherwood will help him escape the bowels of Villa Park.

Scott Sinclair, who barely played a minute under Manuel Pellegrini, has joined on loan and adds to the growing list of players looking to resurrect their careers under the new boss.

In his short time as manager, Tim Sherwood has generated a fair bit of debate. There are some who clearly take to his up and at ‘em style, believing he possesses the tools to become a worthy man manager, a man who can give under-performers the hunger to play again.

There are others who like to look beyond supercilious bravado, and the talk of win percentages.

The truth is; neither side really knows how good a manager Sherwood will be. A prolonged spell at Aston Villa, a club which has fallen on tough times, is the best way for us all to find out.

His own self-belief is the only thing not in doubt. 

A New Zealand win would be a welcome win

Basin reserve two

New Zealand isn’t a big place, and it doesn’t have many inhabitants.  In 2014, the recorded population was just over 4.5 million. That is the lowest figure of any Test playing nation, and barring the West Indies, by quite some margin.

Cricket isn’t even New Zealand’s national sport, far from it. That is Rugby, and with good reason too.

 They have two World Cups to their name in that sport. Over 7% of adult New Zealanders play cricket, but it has never commanded national attention like Rugby.  

 And as a result, the Black Caps have never really taken the world game by storm. Sure, they have had their share of great cricketers.

 Richard Hadlee was a great cricketer. He was part of that quartet of all-rounders that shone brightly in the 80’s, standing alongside Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Ian Botham.

Martin Crowe was a great batsman, one who oozed class. He has 17 test centuries to his name.  During the span of Martin Crowe’s Test career, New Zealand played 94 tests.

 In the same time frame England played 137.  Australia played 130.  Crowe could have scored many more test runs, had he been from a bigger cricketing nation.

 In the modern era, New Zealand have continued to provide some gems. Daniel Vettori has taken over 650 international wickets with his intelligent yet unspectacular brand of left arm spin, yet you would barely have noticed had you not been paying close attention.

 Shane Bond was an electrifying fast bowler, who but for injury would surely have taken countless amounts of wickets against hapless, cowering opponents.

 Stephen Fleming, who was often deprived of the services of Bond whilst captain, is generally seen as one of the great brains of modern cricket. Fleming has the most number of wins as New Zealand captain, and he led his side to their singular world title to date, the inaugural Champions trophy.

 Yet New Zealand have always remained on the periphery. If you don’t follow cricket attentively, they would barely enter your stream of consciousness.

 A consistent paucity of options means they are unable to challenge the supremacy of the bigger nations more than one series at a time.

 Barring Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the Black caps are the only Test side not to have been ranked at number 1 in in their history.

 New Zealand’s World Cup finishes have been consistent, if not remarkable. Perennial dark horses, they have reached the semi-finals in 6 out of 11 World Cups. But they have never gone one further.

 Yet you sense this time something could be different. Something has stirred in New Zealand cricket in these past 18 months. They are unbeaten in their last five test series, winning four, drawing one. 

That Draw came against Pakistan in the UAE, a result their more haughty neighbours Australia couldn’t muster months before.

New Zealand have won four of their last 5 ODI series’ as well. Brendon McCullum, a rambunctious, destructive batsman, has developed into a phlegmatic leader capable of drawing the best out the options at his disposal.

 And these options are perhaps as good as New Zealand have ever had. Alongside McCullum, the Black Caps can count on the stolid, unassuming Kane Williamson, who is quietly forging a reputation as one of the world’s next stars.

 Ross Taylor remains a stalwart of the middle order, and continues to score heavily despite the controversial loss of captaincy.

 In Corey Anderson they have the man who until recently held the record for the fastest ODI hundred, which came in 36 balls against the West Indies at Queenstown last year.

 Luke Ronchi, a wicketkeeper with little reputation, recently struck 170 off 99 balls against Sri Lanka, striding to the crease with his side 93-5.

 New Zealand are moving with the times. In a day where 300 may not be enough, the Black caps have the required firepower to make scores in excess of 330. They are lead of course, by McCullum at the top of the order.

 Their bowling unit has plenty about it too. Over the last two years in Test cricket Trent Boult and Tim Southee have formed one of the most effective opening new-ball partnerships, devilish enough to take wickets rather than just sit back and contain.

 The evergreen Kyle Mills has 240 ODI wickets under his belt, and the powerful Mitchell McClenaghan has made an impressive start to his career.

In the spin department, Daniel Vettori will do what he has always done, taking wickets at a good rate while stubbornly refusing to let the batsman dominate him.

For the first time in a long time, it feels like New Zealand have all the tools at their disposal. Just over two years ago they were  plunged into crisis when Ross Taylor was unceremoniously removed as skipper.

 He was replaced by Brendon McCullum. But once that sorry saga was put to bed, the Black Caps have not looked back. A youthful squad capable of destruction, playing on home soil, New Zealand suddenly don’t seem like dark horses anymore.

They might not win the World Cup. They might fall again at the semi-final, to the more fancied Australia or South Africa.

 If that were to happen, they would go without fuss, just as they usually do.

 But you can’t help but feel that this is their best chance yet, and who knows, it may be their best chance for the next 20 years to come.

 And for that reason, a New Zealand win would be a welcome win. 

However you look at it, Harry Redknapp failed at QPR

HR

Maybe Tim Sherwood, or whoever is next in line for the poisoned chalice that is the QPR job, won’t do a better job than Harry Redknapp.

 Maybe if Junior Hoilett had found the top corner with those sumptuous curlers he regularly pulled out of the bag at Blackburn just a few times, then QPR wouldn’t be languishing in the relegation places.

 Instead, Hoilett seems only to fire the ball into the first defender with unerring accuracy in a hooped shirt.  

Maybe if Sandro, one of the great lads from the Spurs days, hadn’t been injured with quite such alarming regularity, Rangers would have conceded just a few less sloppy goals on the road. Who’s to say they wouldn’t even have a point to show for their gallant efforts?

 Maybe if Redknapp didn’t have to rely on the efforts of 35-year-old Richard Dunne week in, week out, QPR would find themselves in a loftier position.

 In a parallel world, he may have even signed a former Manchester United and England defender to guide us through these choppy waters.

 Maybe if new signing Jordon Mutch hadn’t been so bloody inconsistent in those six league starts of his then he wouldn’t have been sold to Crystal Palace, for a loss, six months after he walked through the talent-sapping walls of Loftus Road.

 And maybe, just maybe, if Redknapp hadn’t inherited such a disinterested rabble of mercenaries from Mark Hughes in the first place, then QPR wouldn’t be in this position at all.

 Heck, if Redknapp had taken over before Hughes, then the R’s would probably be howling at Paul Lambert as he screws Aston Villa up from our vantage point in upper-mid table utopia.

 Yet if there is one thing that is not up for debate, then it is the fact that Harry Redknapp failed in his role as QPR manager, perhaps spectacularly so.

 It is true that Tony Fernandes has taken to ownership of a football club like a shark to land rather than a duck to water. It also true that Mark Hughes was a disaster from start to finish.

 But that doesn’t wholly explain a scattergun transfer policy, inherent throughout Arry’s reign.

 Since he took over in November 2012, Redknapp has signed 21 players, spending approximately £50m. If that isn’t called a rebuilding process, then I’m at a bit of a loss as to what is.

Out of those 21 players, you can count on one hand which of those can be considered an unmitigated success. Loic Remy, Yun-Suk Young (still in early stages), Richard Dunne and Charlie Austin, god bless him.

 It can be fairly argued that Danny Simpson didn’t do much wrong before his move. Harry can have that one. Coll Donaldson was bought for the long-term, so we’ll forget him.

 The rest are; Christopher Samba, Jermaine Jenas, Karl Henry, Gary O’Neil, Matt Phillips, Oguchi Onyewu (who?), Yossi Benayoun, Aaron Hughes, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Caulker, Jordon Mutch, Leroy Fer, Jack Robinson (out on loan despite injuries to Yun and Traore), Alex McCarthy and Sandro.

 Amongst the few who arrived before he did, only really Rob Green and Joey Barton have got better. Marginally. Youngsters such as Nedum Onuha and Hoilett have continued to stagnate.

 QPR’s under-21’s ply their trade in division two development league south section, so unlike some others I find it difficult to pin the blame on Redknapp for not blooding youngsters into the team. They aren’t even mixing it with the conglomerate giants at youth level, never mind the Premier League.

 But you cannot look at that list of mediocrity that has filtered its way into squad and not ask pertinent questions. That isn’t Hughes’ mess there, it reeks of inadequate scouting and short-termism, and it has been done under the watch of Redknapp and his staff. 

 Fernandes’ general ineptness also doesn’t explain the lack of a structure and a workable strategy throughout this current campaign. Good home form has kept the club within touching distance of survival, but playing your new central midfielder out on the left wing and Chile’s main striker Eduardo Vargas on the right, simply illuminates the lack of a plan.

 Bobby Zamora’s knees may have held out to help QPR bully teams at Loftus Road for a time, but his conspicuous lack of pace has meant that playing along the floor often seems a distant memory, and playing on the break away from home has been rendered all but impossible with him in the side.

 After the Burnley game, a record-breaking 10th straight on the road, Redknapp had this to say to the newspapers:

 ”No one is more disappointed than me but it’s hard to win away. Seven or eight of that team were playing last year in the Championship and finished miles behind Burnley and 20 points behind Leicester so we can’t get carried away about who we are. We are scrapping away with the other clubs down there.”

 Forget the raft of players acquired over the summer, both signings and loanees; QPR finished behind Burnley so the fans mustn’t get carried away.  A quick glance at Burnley’s wage bill and transfer fees and it may be come clear why Redknapp should have been striving for more than a heartless relegation scrap with our Lancashire rivals.

Burnley, incidentally, are managed by a young, hungry manager, intent on siphoning the best from his squad, many of whom before the last season would have been viewed as Championship stalwarts at best.

 Sean Dyche is the polar of opposite of Redknapp, prepared to work within limits and mould a competitive team. He is exactly the type of man QPR should look to appoint.

 For Redknapp, his indifferent affair with QPR has come to an abrupt end.  The fans failed to love him, and he never really seemed to find much affection for the club in return. Maybe we will see him again, maybe we won’t.

 Maybe his knees are causing him genuine grief, and we are all showing a lack of warmth to one of the Premier League’s loyal servers.

 But maybe, just maybe, if QPR had signed Emmanuel Adebayor on loan, we wouldn’t be seeing the back of Redknapp just yet. Adebayor remains a Spurs player. Perhaps he would have reminded Harry of happier times.