Off The Woodwork

If it's to do with football, it'll be discussed here. Expect the odd match report, the occasional preview, regular gossip and intriguing debate. On twitter: @AlexWood30. Comments welcomed.
10 Apr

Atlético Madrid: The Number 9 Production Line

For the first time in recent years, a team that is neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid is perched at the summit of Spain's top flight of football, La Liga. Make no mistake; these are exciting times for any avid European footballing fan. For it is not, perhaps, customary for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two most successful domestic sides in Spanish history, to occupy the unfamiliar positions of second and third. In fact, you have to trawl back exactly a decade, to the season of 2003-04, when Valencia were crowned deserved champions ahead of Barcelona. The team currently leading the way after 32 games played, however, is not Valencia. 

Going by a number of nicknames, Los Colchoneros (the Mattress Makers), more commonly Los Rojiblancos (the Red and Whites) or simply El Atleti, this particular club plays at the rather imposing Estadio Vicente Calderón in Madrid and boasts a long standing tradition of success that can be traced back over 100 years. I'm talking, of course, of Atlético Madrid. But what is it, precisely, that has enabled a side formally languishing on the fringes of Champions League qualification to this year dominate ahead of its rivals? And how has a team managed to consistently adapt and, more significantly, improve on a regular basis following the all-too-familiar departure of its strikers over the years, including Fernando Torres and Sergio "Kun" Aguero? While most clubs in Europe suffer setbacks after a star striker moves on to greener pastures, for Los Rojiblancos this is but a minor nuisance. A common occurrence, an annual expectation. 

Atletico Madrid 2013-2014












   ABOVE: The Atlético Madrid squad of 2013-14, including Diego Costa (front row, far right).

As a club that isn't generally expected to win the league title any time soon, to boast the modern talents of Radamel Falcao, David Villa and Diego Costa, players who have all donned the famous red, white and blue strip in recent years, seems somewhat peculiar. Not for Atlético. This club, particularly over the last three decades has somehow become accustomed to losing its prolific number 9 only to replace them with a figure who is able to replicate similar or, indeed, more success on the pitch. And you would be naïve to think that this unique ability of furnishing strikers, often names that are either forgotten, unknown or considered unworthy, is specific to the club's modern day scouting network. Believe it or not, but this long line of acclaimed strikers stretches way back to pre-World War Two from Francisco Campos to Pruden to Jose Juncosa.

Atlético: A History...

If we turn our attention, even if only briefly, to the footballing word of past, to times gone by, to an era of football brought to life today only by black and white photography and surviving museum relics. Throughout the early post-war period through until the late 1950s, Atlético fans witnessed pure genius in the form of Adrian Escudero. Signed at the tender age of 17, not unlike a certain young Spaniard called Fernando Torres in 2001, Escudero was the first great striker in Los Rojiblancos history. In many ways, Escudero was the complete forward; technically gifted, blessed with pace and, as all strikers should, an acute eye for goal. Despite only finding the net twice in debut season, the Spaniard went on to win both the crowd and an array of silverware plummeting a record number of goals, including a 28-goal campaign in the early 1950s before retiring, aged 30, in 1957.


While the late '50s and early '60s marked a disappointing period of few successes, in the face of a rampant and resurgent Real Madrid side, a particularly deadly duo emerged who were capable of firing Atlético back to the elite of Spanish football by the turn of the mid-1960s. Luis Aragones and Jose Garate, the two Spaniards, combined to produce some of Atlético's finest moments. Both trumping Real Madrid in acquiring the league title, first in 1966 and again in 1977, the pair also managed to pip Athletic Bilbao to the title in 1969-70 and lift the Copa Del Generalisimos (now known as the Copa Del Rey) three times. While Escudero's individual brilliance as a lone striker during the 1950s won him many deserved plaudits, the pairing of Aragones and Garate is perhaps comparable to the modern day pairing of Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero, whose complimentary styles, great teamwork and natural link-up play inspired the team at large to exceed all expectations.












ABOVE: Luis Aragones, who strangely resembles Diego Costa (left), and Jose Garate (right)


A Story of The Flying Dutchman and "the Kid"...

The modern era is certainly where Atlético's glittering array of attacking talent has been most noticeable. Before the tenure of Diego Costa, before the arrival of Radamel Falcao and even before the pairing of Forlan and Aguero, there was once a young Dutchman who plundered all the goals and grabbed all the headlines. A name you may well be familiar with, having played for a host of clubs across Europe including Campomaiorense, Leeds United and Chelsea. In case you haven't guessed, his name was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. 

A £12 million purchase in 1999, Hasselbaink was tasked with the unenviable prospect of replacing fan-favourite Christian Vieri (who had secured a place in the hearts of supporters after an incredible 29 goals in 32 games in his debut season). Adapting to the Spanish game well, the prolific Dutchman notched an impressive total of 24 goals in 34 La Liga appearances and 32 in all competitions, though his efforts were somehow not enough to save the club from relegation in 2000.

Staying for just the one season before heading to the Vicente Calderón exit door, Hasselbaink managed to replicate a rather similar impression upon the loyal fan base as had Vieri before him and was perhaps remembered best for his man of the match performance at the Santiago Bernabeu, the home of Real Madrid, where he bagged a brace and an assist in a mighty 3-1 win over the Los Blancos in the famed 'El Derbi Madrileño'.

Hasselbaink

While Hasselbaink set about his business of scoring goals, a younger, promising, home grown talent was being nurtured behind closed doors. A talent that was fostered, developed and moulded by the brilliance of former striker, Luis Aragones. Fernando Torres, or as he was nicknamed, El Niño (the kid), was, in many ways, christened a new hero, a symbol of hope that was very much one of their own. 

Aged just 15, Torres signed his first professional contract with the boyhood club he had supported all his life. His first few years, however, were blighted by injury and chances were subsequently restricted to that of the Segunda division as Los Colchoneros desperately sought to reinstate their claim as an established La Liga side. 

It was in the top flight, however, where 'the kid' quickly adjusted to the pressure and expectations of the fans, developing into a core component of the team. A tally of 13 goals in 29 games helped Atlético to recover their feet in the coveted La Liga once again in 2002/03, a feat which was in fact bettered the following season as Torres finished as the league's third highest scorer with 19 goals. 


You wouldn't be mistaken for noticing the captain's armband on Torres' left arm either (above). Much to the surprise of fans and disbelief of the media, at the mere age of 19, Torres was gifted the captaincy despite being one of the youngest players within the squad. Though if you thought such a responsibility halted his progress or ability, then yes, this time, you would be mistaken. The spiky-haired forward, with pace, a poachers instinct and an ability to score all types of goals at his disposal, continued to defy his youth and perceived lack of experience to earn a number of call-ups from the national team and attract the attention of several clubs across Europe.


The Modern Day Mattress Makers...

No doubt aware of the plaudits Torres was attracting from a far and the circling rumours of an imminent transfer, Atlético were quick to acquire the services of a young prospect from South America a year prior to Torres's move to the English Premier League. Once again, with the emphasis of transfer policy upon youth and potential rather than age and experience, a fairly unknown 18 year old Argentine known as Sergio Aguero ("Kun") was welcomed into the club. Would it be a fair statement to label Aguero as a like-for-like purchase, a carbon copy in the absence of the departed Torres? Perhaps. Sure, they were both young and both proved formidable strikers for the club. But, in reality, this is where the similarities stopped.

Aguero was an entirely different breed of striker. Whereas Torres was tall and had a rather lean physique, Aquero was small, yet broad, stocky and strong. Though, it was clear the Argentine was quick and blessed with natural flair. Placed alongside Torres's direct replacement, Diego Forlan, the pair's relationship blossomed. Centre-backs and defenders from across the league had good cause to be concerned. 

Ricardo Carvalho, of Real Madrid, admitted at the time: "Forlan and Aguero are both very good...Forlan, specifically is difficult to defend against because he is a striker with great mobility". In many ways, the pair were an unique embodiment of youth, promise, experience and proven talent all rolled into one.


ABOVE: The Uruguayan, Diego Forlan (Left) and (Right) the Argentine, Sergio Aguero

At the end of the 2010-11 season, both Aguero and Forlan left the club (to Manchester City and Inter Milan respectively). Having laid claim to a Europa League and a UEFA Super Cup winners medal, the pair moved on. Naturally, fans were concerned. Between them, they had plundered an astonishing total of 197 goals. Who on earth could Atlético recruit that would be able to even match, let a lone top, that record?

Cue Radamel Falcao. The Colombian arrived in Madrid already established as one of the world's best number 9′s, hence why the club made him their most expensive recruit. While failing to top the total of goals amassed by Forlan and Aguero, Falcao is considered to have had one of the greatest impacts that fans have ever had the joy of witnessing at the Calderón (which, as a striker, is impressive). It is worth noting that this is a division that already boasted the superstar talents of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, yet Falcao's 70 goals in 90 games propelled him almost instantaneously onto a level on par with such players...unsurprisingly.

falcao

ABOVE: Radamel Falcao, or 'El Tigre' as he was affectionately known by fans

Strikers By Stats...

  • 1997-98 - Christian Vieri: 32 games, 29 goals
  • 1999-2000 - Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink: 47 games, 35 goals
  • 2001-07 - Fernando Torres: 243 games, 91 goals
  • 2006-11 - Sergio Aguero: 234 games, 101 goals
  • 2007-11 -  Diego Forlan: 197 games, 96 goals
  • 2011-13 -  Radamel Falcao: 90 games, 70 goals

Of course, this begs the question, who was the best?


El Cholo's "Beast"

Diego Costa. The man of the moment. This is the striker who is currently Atlético's star man. Scoring goals almost at will and tearing teams apart in the process. At 25 years old, Costa is a product of Brazil's infamous street football, the same country he recently switched allegiance from in order to complete his controversial Spanish citizenship. Interestingly, one of the most noticeable things about Spain's defeat to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final of 2013 was the way the Spanish were bullied by Phil Scolari's team. Diego Costa, however, does not get pushed around. Definitely one to watch this summer at the World Cup.


In a bizarrely ironic fashion, Costa is representative of a new type of striker at Atlético though his style of play, brash, brute and physical, is considered a throwback to an older generation. Almost like a Spanish version of Andy Carroll, but with talent and the ability to actually play football with both his feet, Costa has been a revelation for Los Colchoneros following loan spells at a number of clubs in lower divisions, having being on the books of Atlético since December 2006.

Moreover Costa's demeanour perfectly surmises what it is like to support manager Diego Simeone's side. No longer do Atlético hide behind the veil of their Real Madrid counterparts, no matter how mighty or impressive. Much like with Costa, there exists a renewed swagger to Los Colchoneros and their support, a vibrant energy that has not subsided despite the continued loss of prolific strikers. Like those before him, there's a growing belief that this striker can elevate Atlético Madrid to even greater success.

Final Word...

Would you be concerned, as an Atletico Madrid, if the rumours are true that a host of European sides are considering a swoop for the in-form Costa? No, surely not. Based on this evidence, another striker will arrive, fill his boots and more than likely, better his record. You can't argue with history.


Do you agree, or disagree, with what Alex has written here? Spotted an error or is something missing? Comment below with any feedback, criticisms or thoughts.


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26 Feb

The Nike Monopoly in Sport

Everywhere you go, you'll see Nike. It's almost a given. In today's modern world of marketing, advertising, commercialisation and consumerism, it is almost impossible to avoid big name brands. Just look at the global successes of Apple (the company, not the fruit), Google or even Coca-Cola. Household names that we read of almost as second nature. With regards to sport, however, one particular brand seems to trump all others. Adidas, Puma, Umbro, Diadora; there are a whole list that come close, but it is Nike that stands today as the pinnacle in footwear, apparel and sports equipment. 

Aside from football, just for a second, Nike's 'swoosh' tick can be spotted across a whole range of sports, endorsed by a number of (highly paid) sporting figures. From Tiger Woods' iconic Nike baseball cap to Michael Jordan's Nike air max sneakers, the corporation has successfully diversified itself over the years in order to represent a number of top athletes. In tennis, it's Rafael Nadal; in cycling, Mark Cavendish, in cricket, the Indian national side. You get the idea. These are the teams and individuals that succeed in sport. And where there is success, there is Nike.

Nike CricketMark Cavdendish

Michael Jordan

The Barclays Premier League, in its own right, is a story of success. With or without Nike sponsorship, the Premier League boasts a number of lucrative television contracts, estimated to be in excess of £1 billion per year as of 2013-14 and is consistently the most-watched football league in the world, broadcast to over 600 million homes worldwide and a potential TV audience of 4.7 billion people. So, where exactly does Nike come in to the equation?

Well, you don't have to look far before it becomes apparent just how commonplace Nike is within the English top flight. Did you know that on the opening weekend of the Premier League season in August 2013, of a total 220 players that started for their respective teams, 127 sported some form of Nike boots? 

Certain players, such as Chelsea's wide-man Eden Hazard and Arsenal's Theo Walcott, opted for the rather flamboyant Nike 'Mercurial Vapour' whilst defenders Branislav Ivanovic and Patrice Evra (of Chelsea and Manchester United respectively) preferred the slightly more reserved Nike 'Tiempo'. The most popular Nike boot of them all, however, was the Nike 'CTR360'. Sounding more akin to a spaceship straight out of the Star Wars franchise or the latest antivirus software available to download, this particular boot was worn by a total of 48 players including Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tottenham Hotspur's Icelandic midfielder, Gylfi Sigurdsson (below).

CTR combined photo

The manufacture of boots is not the only thing that Nike dominates in the Premier League. They also supply the official match day balls and certain team kits. These teams, it's worth noting, currently include league champions Manchester United, derby rivals Manchester City, Arsenal F.C and also Everton F.C. On a side note, Nike have more recently replaced Umbro as the official sponsor of the English national side (which perhaps begs the question, does Nike truly represent the zenith of sporting success?).

England

Whilst Nike's decision to sponsor the English national side has raised a few disconcerting eyebrows in recent months, the company's sponsorship of certain individual players from across the globe is unquestionable. Players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Sergio Ramos, Zlatan Imbrahimovic and Franc Ribery; the all too familiar names that perhaps best characterise Nike's famous slogan, 'Just Do It'.

Are we to believe, therefore, that Nike is a superior sports brand? As consumers, the many successes of Nike's multi-million pound advertising campaigns and its frequent use of global sporting icons has undoubtedly instilled this public perception. Whilst it may well be naive to assume that Nike actually produces sports clothing of any better quality or value when compared with other leading distributors, there can be no denying that Nike's underlying story of success relates to their unique combination of marketing and sports.

The players that are often sponsored by Nike are not simply demonstrating an affiliation with a type of brand but rather they are reaffirming the intrinsic strength of Nike's global grip upon football and, more generally, sport. A player that is sponsored by Nike, in effect, endorses the corporation's great hidden message; to wear the best, to have the best and, to an extent, to be the best, you must wear Nike.

nike

Final Word

As a company, Nike ought not to be criticised for its success as an internationally recognised label. It's astute realisation of the twinned power of sport and marketing has effectively propelled it to the forefront of its field and this should not be considered as a flaw. As a brand, it represents the peak of sporting talent, an apex of ability, the summit that we aspire to. Nike's great flaw, however, is the hidden message that its profitable sponsorship deals endorse. As a sponsor, Nike cultivates this sense that it is an exclusive product manufactured by the best, for the best. 

Do you agree? Or disagree? Comment with your thoughts on 'The Nike Monopoly in Sport' below.


11 Feb

The Marmite Men of Football

Football is a colourful sport. Animated by varied characters of sublime talent, inflated ego and choice hair do's, the world of football boasts players of all kinds. Naturally, there are those who simply mesmerise and those who inspire. The type of players who boast flamboyant skill, beat defenders for fun and play to entertain. The Ronaldo's, Messi's and Bale's of this world. 

Of course, there are those in the game who pale by such comparison. Players whose names you'll never see or hear in the news, except perhaps for the odd cameo appearance on 'Forgotten Footballers'. 

And then there are those who make the press on a weekly basis, names you become accustomed to reading in headlines who divide fans, split opinion yet entertain in a whole new dimension. Forget the perfect image or the incredible ability, these are the players that you love to read about for all the wrong reasons. I present to you, in no particular order, the 'marmite men' of football past and present...

1. Mario Balotelli

Mario Balotelli

The former Inter Milan and Manchester City front man, now playing his trade at AC Milan, has always been a controversial figure. As a fresh faced 18 year old, his first stint in Italy at Inter under Jose Mourinho was marred by constant quarrels and a poor disciplinary record. After being sold to Manchester City at the start of the 2010-2011 campaign, amid weeks of speculation, Balotelli began his two-and-a-half season tenure under former boss Roberto Mancini. 

Despite his undisputed brilliance on the pitch, Balotelli consistently managed to attract negative press wherever he went. Bizarre stories, ranging from handing out £50 notes to complete strangers whilst shopping in Manchester to making a surprise stop at a local Manchester school asking to use their toilet, often appeared in the papers. Not to mention the infamous bathroom firework incident or the training ground bib saga.

Did you know...Mario Balotelli has had his car impounded 27 times and has reportedly paid over £10,000 in parking fines?

2. El Hadji Diouf

El Hadji Diouf

Once described by former QPR manager Neil Warnock as 'lower than a sewer rat', El Hadji Diouf is perhaps one of the most hated figures in English football. Currently playing for Leeds United in the second tier of English football, the Championship, Diouf has featured for a number of top flights clubs including Liverpool, Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers.

They say with Marmite that you either love it or you hate it. Well, with this chap, it seems there can be no doubt as to which side you should agree with (it's hate in case you were wondering). Having allegedly spat at fans, players and even once a ball boy, Diouf is one of the few players to grace the English leagues as a universally hated figure by fans all over the country.

Aside from the repeated instances of spitting, the motoring offences, racial slurs, nightclub brawls and consistently poor disciplinary record, I'm sure El Hadji Diouf is a great guy...

3. Joey Barton


Of course, an article concerning controversial footballers simply had to feature QPR's Joey Barton. Despite attempts to reform his image (in terms of maturity, not the growth of a dubious pony tail in recent weeks), Barton's reputation will always be overshadowed by his rather turbulent off-the-pitch history. Two separate convictions for assault between 2007 and 2008, following an incident in Liverpool's city centre and a training ground bust up with former team mate Ousmane Dabo, culminated in a six month jail sentence. 

Barton, much like Diouf, has also struggled with a poor disciplinary record over the years. Whilst Diouf is an advocate of the spit-in-the-face manoeuvre, Barton prefers to stick with his fists when it comes to a good old fashioned bust up. Just look at the final day of the 2011-2012 season at the Etihad stadium when Barton infamously attacked three players in as many minutes as proof.

4. Eric Cantona


Despite hanging up in his boots in 1997, 'King Eric', as he is affectionately known by many Manchester United fans, is still a prominent name in the world of football. He may have won four Premier League titles in five years and completed two League and FA Cup doubles during his tenure as United's number 7, but many fans will instead recall his infamous 1995 kung fu style launch over an advertising board at Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons, who had screamed abuse at the French forward.

Cantona was subsequently arrested for assault, resulting in a two weeks prison sentence which was eventually reduced to 120 hours of community service. At a press conference following the decision, Cantona gave what is perhaps his most famous, albeit confusing, quotation before departing: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." 

Cantona kick

Adored by United fans, detested perhaps by others. I'll leave this one to you.

5. Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez

He is the in form player of the moment. He is Liverpool's saviour. The one everybody is talking about. In 20 Premier League matches this season, Suarez has slotted home 23 goals. That's an incredible statistic for any striker. It could be argued, however, that upon Balotelli's departure to AC Milan in 2013, Suarez became the League's most contentious player.

The first of two hotly debated incidents concerning Suarez occurred in 2011. During a game against Manchester United in October, Suarez allegedly racially abused Patrice Evra. The Football Association opened up an investigation and consequently found the Uruguayan guilty, who was charged with an eight game ban and fined £40,000. 

A year and a half later, in April 2013, Suarez found himself again at the centre of an investigation by the FA, this time following a biting incident on Chelsea full back Branislav Ivanovic. Despite Suarez protesting the case, he was found guilty by an independent panel who charged the forward with a lofty ten game ban. Apparently this was not the first time Suarez decided to take a chunk out of a player, having previously bitten PSV's Otman Bakkal during his time at Ajax. Needless to say, it was a story the press could really get their teeth into (I'm sorry, that's an awful pun).

Liverpool striker Luis SuÃÆ'Æ'Æ'ÃÆ'†'ÃÆ'Æ'â€Ã...¡ÃÆ'‚¡rez bite on Branislav Ivanovic, best of the funnies: in pictures

Final Word...

These are all examples of players who possess unbelievable talent yet continue to risk it all by becoming entangled in the most ridiculous of dramas, both on and off the pitch. Yet, they add to the sport in a way which, although it should not be encouraged, demands attention. They are the sort of players you take note of, not necessarily because they're the most skilled, but because they'll do something different. Aside from the instances of violent misconduct, racial slurs, spitting, kicking and even biting, you've got to give it to them; they'll get you talking. Love them, hate them, you simply can't ignore them.


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10 Dec

The Best Dressed of the Premier League

As the Barclays Premier League season enters the festive period, fans, players and managers across the country are bracing themselves for the oncoming plummeting temperatures, freezing winds, blustery conditions and even the odd snowfall. The English winter may not be as harsh as other countries dotted across the globe but it certainly packs a rather bitter punch.

Of course, the arrival of the nippy weather presents quite the conundrum for Premier League managers. Squad selection may prove a sticking point; will certain players be prepared to slide on frozen ground? How will they cope in sub-zero temperatures? Perhaps more importantly, managers will have to decide what to wear. Now the Premier League isn't exactly London Fashion Week but it does boast a number of stylish football fashionistas. Just take a look at these... 

1. Roberto Martinez (Everton F.C)

Roberto Martinez has long been considered as one of the most stylish managers to grace the Premier League in recent years. As one sports column described 'it's almost as if style simply comes naturally to him'. First things first, Martinez is a suit man. You can forget seeing this chap is a Tony Pulis type tracksuit anytime soon. Come rain or shine, the young Spaniard will stick with his customary suit, jacket and shoes.

On Tuesday night's visit to Old Trafford, Martinez sported a dark blue tailored suit alongside a fitted black jacket. The brown shoes were a bit of a gamble but I think it's fair to say Martinez just about pulls it off.

Verdict: It's all about style over substance with Martinez. Don't expect to see a Mancini-esque scarf or gloves any time soon either.

2. Andre Villas-Boas (Tottenham Hotspur F.C)

Andre Villas-Boas may well be currently struggling for results with his team on the field, but off it, the young Portuguese manager is picking up all the points with his frequently tailored suits, slim fit designer jackets and matching polished shoes. Even during his Chelsea days, Villas-Boas always managed to maintain his pristine image.

Villas-Boas is all about the tactics. With some local London weather reports predicting rainfall during the midweek match at Fulham, the Tottenham boss opted for the trusted combination of a tailored suit and club-branded waterproof. On drier days, however, expect to see AVB in his usual black coat, suit and black shoes.

Fighting back: Andre Villas-Boas tries to hold back the elements at White Hart Lane

Verdict: Simple yet effective. That seems to be the ethos behind AVB's designer wardrobe. Wouldn't look out of place on an M&S advert.

3. Mauricio Pochettino (Southampton F.C)

Mauricio Pochettino is one of the few managers in the Premier League who is often spotted in the dugout in either a suit or a tracksuit. As a manager, you are either a suit man or a Tony Pulis (tracksuit, boots laced up and a baseball cap on for good measure). It's a simple choice but one you stick by. Pochettino, however, tends to mix and match his outfits as the fixtures come and go with some notable success.

There is only one word to describe some of Pochettino's suits; sharp. It's not uncommon to spot the Argentine wearing a suit alongside a club-branded jacket. It has to be said that club-branded jackets seem to be a hot favourite amongst a number of Premier League managers this season.

Have you ever seen a manager rock a pair of Levi's at a Premier League game? Nor had I. Make of this decision what you will but Pochettino still manages to pull it off. The black shoes and matching jacket restore a much needed sense of elegance but maybe next time leave the jeans at home. They won't be missed.

Here we see the Southampton manager in his trusted black and white Adidas tracksuit. With the coaching staff often sporting the same number as Pochettino on game days, the Southampton dugout is the home of stylised tracksuits. Usually a slim-fit, something Tony Pulis regards as unpractical, Pochettino cuts a rather snug figure which, on a breezy day, certainly can't be a bad thing.

Verdict: Mauricio Pochettino definitely has a fashion sense, that much is clear. Similar to that of Roberto Martinez and Andre Villas-Boas, it's all about the style over substance. Staying warm is subsidiary to staying smart. Though for future reference, leave the jeans at home and stick with a smart trouser.

4. Alan Pardew (Newcastle F.C)

This was a tough call to make. With a Spaniard, a Portuguese and an Argentine claiming the top three spots, there had to be at least one British manager who made the cut. That man is Newcastle's Alan Pardew. As an experienced manager, Pardew will know a thing or two about the English winter season.

For Saturday's trek to Old Trafford, the Magpies boss decided upon the suit option but with a slight twist. Unlike Martinez or Villas-Boas, here we see the introduction of a rather timely grey cardigan underneath a suit jacket and accompanying black coat for extra warmth. And with that black and white tie, the colours of Newcastle F.C, Pardew even manages to colour-coordinate his outfit. I think it's fair to say Pardew has beaten Moyes both on and off the pitch with this one.

Verdict: Is this the 'best of British'? Held up against the likes of Big Sam, Steve Clarke and Steve Bruce, I think it's fair to say Pardew tops the list.

So there you have it. These are the top four fashionable fellas that successfully manage to bring a dose of touchline chic to the sometimes ugly world of English football. Keep an eye out for the follow up article, 'The Worst Dressed of the Premier League'.

I would call it a spoiler, but frankly, it isn't. The infamous Tony Pulis tracksuit will be making an appearance.


5 Dec

David Moyes: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

On the 09th of May 2013, Manchester United Football Club formally announced that Everton manager David Moyes would be replacing Sir Alex Ferguson. For any United fan, young or old, this was huge. Sir Alex Ferguson had been the man at the heart of all things United for over 25 years. The trophy cabinet that Ferguson had built during his tenure boasted 13 Premier League titles, two UEFA Champions League titles and countless FA Cup's and League Cup trophies.

So when Sir Alex announced his retirement at the end of the 2012/2013 season, many United fans had cause to be concerned. Naturally the first question on everybody's lips was, who would replace him? Bookies had a number of potential candidates for the job; former Chelsea man Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Borussia Dortmund's Jurgen Klopp and even United old boy Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was being tipped with an outside chance.

The man that eventually took the job was fellow Scot, David Moyes. As one of the few managers in the Premier League to have eclipsed the 400-game mark, Moyes was generally considered as one of the most underrated managers of recent years. Having consistently maintained Everton's status as a top flight club for 11 years, Moyes had proved a fiercely loyal and (albeit limited) successful manager working with an incredibly tight budget. Everton have never been a notoriously rich club - they do not benefit from the ludicrous wealth of a Middle Eastern Sheikh, like at Manchester City - but Moyes always succeeded in assembling a spirited side that consistently finished on the fringes of Champions League qualification.

David Moyes officially started the job at United on the 01st of July 2013 on a bumper six-year contract. The Board of Directors certainly had faith, despite widespread anxiety amongst the United support. Upon signing, this is what the Scot had to say "I know how hard it will be to follow the best manager ever, but the opportunity to manage Manchester United isn't something that comes around very often and I'm really looking forward to taking up the post next season."

The reign of David Moyes at Manchester United started well. His first 'competitive' (a term used rather loosely here) game in charge was in the Community Shield against FA Cup winners, Wigan Athletic, which United won 2-0. Less than a week later, United headed to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea in their opening match of the Premier League season. It finished a 4-1 win for Moyes's side, with Van Persie and Welbeck opening their goalscoring accounts early.

United looked strong. Moyes looked comfortable. Any notion of anxiety and pressure seemed to subside. Of course, this was before United suffered their worst ever start to a Premier League season, dropping points against Southampton and losing at home to West Bromwich Albion. Evidently, the first big test of Moyes' management was at the Etihad in the first Machester derby of the season. It was new territory for both managers and to say that Manchester City's Manuel Pellegrini came out on top would be a huge understatement.

Dishevelled, disjointed and unimposing, United were completely trounced 4-1 by Pellegrini's men. The defeat sent shockwaves across the footballing world. The red half of Manchester wasn't just defeated, it was embarrassed. Talking to BBC Sport during his post match interview, the most rousing comment Moyes could muster was "It is one game. There are plenty more to come and plenty of time to fix it."

Despite being 9th in the Premier League table, trailing a hefty 12 points behind league-leaders Arsenal, United have recently looked to ignite some form. Securing qualification in the Champions League with a game to spare, complimentary of a five goal rout over Bayer Leverkusen a couple weeks ago, has roused the United camp. Morale was certainly boosted and an unbeaten run of 12 games looked to be gaining momentum at a crucial point in the season.

Last night Manchester United welcomed Moyes's former club, Everton, to Old Trafford. Roberto Martinez, the man who took over from Moyes, has enjoyed some success this season already. The acquisition of Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku on transfer deadline day has proven a hit as the Belgian man has been in fine form, plundering eight goals in nine league appearances.

United came into the game looking to extend their 12-game unbeaten run, whilst Everton were eager to secure vital points in pushing for the top four. If there was a game Moyes would have wanted to win, this would have been it. At home, in front of the United faithful, this was a chance to move up the table and get one over on his old club.

It wasn't to be. As fate would have it, United lost 1-0. Hitting the post twice, and forcing Howard into some acrobatic saves of magnificent quality, Everton rode their luck for 80 minutes of the game before new signing Bryan Oviedo slotted one past David De Gea. Any hopes of salvaging a point were lost as referee Martin Atkinson blew the final whistle.

There seems to be a recurring theme to United's season so far. An inability to maintain goal advantages explains a number of sloppy defeats, whilst a lack of attacking flair and intent highlights United's current incapacity to finish off games. It could be argued Moyes has simply been unlucky in his opening few months as United boss. A number of last minute goals and rather unfortunate decisions have marred what could have been a promising start to the young Scot's Manchester reign.

Though I am not making excuses. If Moyes wants to recover this season and steady the fast-sinking United ship, there are a number of things he should solve. And fast. Firstly, get Robin Van Persie fit and firing. The Dutchman has been sorely missed, despite Rooney's fine form, and his goals would be a welcomed boost. Secondly, find a solution for Marouane Fellaini. I'm still unsure as to what he offers as a player. He looks out of his depth, insecure and at £27.5 million, his hefty price tag looks entirely unjustified. Thirdly, invest during the January transfer window. I'm not usually a fan of mid-season spending, but United's squad desperately requires some fresh legs. An injection of youth and creativity in the middle of park might go some way to solving United's dithering season.

No-one said replacing Ferguson would be easy. David Moyes is certainly finding that out the hard way. But I still believe he has time. Manchester United are not about to become another 'hire and fire' club, much like Chelsea, despite rife rumours of a Moyes departure circulating in the press. A realistic target for this year would be a place in the top four. Anything more would be a bonus. Anything less...well, I don't even want to think about that just yet.


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28 Nov

Underrated Managers in the Premier League: Mauricio Pochettino

Football can be a cut-throat world. The Barclays Premier League is a gruelling, intense and often cruel competition; success is all that matters. For any manager, time is never your friend. When a side is winning, scoring goals and taking the three points, everybody loves you. The press flatter, fans support and the table becomes a welcomed sight.

But when your side are losing, things aren't so rosy. Suddenly the headlines are calling for the sack, rumours start to spread, fans begin to protest against your managerial reign and the table looks ominous. This season has already claimed the jobs Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway and Italian 'charlatan' Paolo Di Canio.

But for one manager in particular, this season is starting to look increasingly favourable. I'm talking, of course, about the seemingly unknown Argentine who barely speaks a word of the English language, Mauricio Pochettino of Southampton F.C.

When Pochettino was announced as the manager of Southampton in January earlier this year, few had even heard of him. Despite playing for a number of years at Espanyol in La Liga, Paris Saint-Germain in the French top tier and representing his native Argentine on the international stage, including appearances at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Pochettino had somehow gone entirely undetected amongst English audiences.

Reaplacing Nigel Adkins was always going to be a tall order. Adkins was the man responsbile for Southampton's footballing revival. Returning from the abyss of League One, Adkins steered the club back to the top, as a result of successive promotions. Upon hearing the news of his firing, and Pochettino's appointment, few fans welcomed the managerial change.

Former Southampton manager and vice-president of the League Manager's Association Lawrie McMenemy, talking to Radio 5 Live at the time, slated the decision. "With due respect to Pochettino, what does he know about our game? What does he know about the Premier League? What does he know about the dressing room, does he speak English?"

The Southampton board were quick to defend their actions. Chairman Nicola Cortese said in a statement "This decision has been made with the long-term ambitions of Southampton Football Club in mind. Mauricio is a well-respected coach of substantial quality who has gained a reputation as an astute tactician and excellent man manager."

Pochettino's first match in charge was a 0-0 tie with Everton at St. Mary's Stadium. Talk of white-hankie protests over Nigel Adkins' in the days previous dominated the build-up, though an icy reception never materialised and the new man was instead warmed by a promising performance from his side.

It was still early days for the Argentine. Fans were still dubious at his appointment, unsure of his approach, though surprise wins against reigning champions Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea went some way to easing Saints anxiety. Southampton finished the 2012/2013 season 14th in the table, four places from the relegation zone.

It is this season, however, that Pochettino has perhaps stunned most fans. Currently 5th, above Manchester United and Tottenham and equal on points with Manchester City, Southampton are proving tough opposition. Well-drilled, disciplined and tricky to score against, Pochettino seems to have instilled a certain flair to their attack which was lacking under Adkins.

With England forwards Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez, this current Saints side boasts a number of internationals who have won this season against several established teams. An away win at Anfield and a last minute equaliser at Old Trafford have cemented Pochettino's position at the helm.

The style of football that he has looked to create suits this Southampton side. Wide players such as Lallana and Rodriguez often counter with such pace that few teams can cope with the intensity. And with long-serving Saints striker Rickie Lambert up top, the goals just keep on coming. It's entertaining football; it's about possession, passing their way through teams and attacking with intent. Even Bayern chief and former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola was once reported to have said he identifies with Pochettino's style of play.

And last month, to cap Southampton's incredible success, Pochettino claimed the 'Barclays Manager of the Month' award for October last month. His achievements on the English south coast have not gone unnoticed; amid growing concern over Andre Villas-Boas' position at Tottenham Hotspur, the name Pochettino is being mentioned as a potential replacement.

It might be too early to talk of a potential Champions League challange, but this Southampton side have consistently surprised the football world - would you write them off? I wouldn't. Now it seems the man who nobody had even heard of in January, Mauricio Pochettino, manages a Southampton side which has entirely forgotten its predecessor, Nigel Adkins.

Pity his grasp of the English language is so poor. (Come on, he had to have a flaw?)


21 Nov

Aaron Ramsey - A Player Reborn?

It was a tackle which many football fans will still remember. It was a rather nippy February night at the Brittannia Stadium and Arsenal were the visitors. As Shawcross took an awkward touch, Ramsey gathered the ball well before being chopped down by the on-rushing Stoke defender.

Aaron Ramsey

The tackle still stands as one of the worst incidents of foul play that the Premier League has seen in recent years, and Arsenal fans will certainly know a thing or two about tough tackles. Only two years previous to Ramsey's leg break, former Gunner Eduardo had been the victim of a similar challenge away at Birmingham.

Few believed Ramsey would recover. Prior to the incident, pundits had been calling Ramsey a 'world class player', 'a special talent' considered to be on an even better path than fellow Welshman Gareth Bale. Subject to the world's most expensive transfer, Bale is now playing for Spanish giants Real Madrid alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Iker Casillas. But what about Aaron Ramsey?

Real deal: Gareth Bale celebrates with Cristiano Ronaldo

Despite being out of the game for a number of months, he started his footballing recovery with loans spells at Nottingham Forest and Cardiff. With youth on his side at least, Ramsey had time to progress. Arsenal manager Arsene Wegner told the Daily Mail of his decision to allow the Welsh international to return to his former club, 'I just look for competition for him'.

His loan spells were designed to improve much needed game fitness, to recooperate that thirst for football. Is it fair to say the leg-break effected Ramsey's confidence? Certainly.

'It was a really tough thing to go through and I don't wish it upon anybody,' said Ramsey.

'The determination and the professionalism that you need, all the hours you have to spend in the gym, it's quite tough. But I;ve got through that. It's taken me a bit longer than I would've liked, but I'm happy now where I am, and hoping to improve and carry on this good form that I'm in.' This is what Ramsey told the Mail this year, in February.

The good form that he speaks of has certainly been maintained as his excellent start to the 2013/2014 Premier League season has inspired pundits to once again refer to the young Welshman as a 'special talent'. Is it too soon to consider Ramsey as back on the same trajectory as Bale? Perhaps, though his goal scoring feats for Arsenal have not gone unnoticed.

In 2012, Arsene Wegner was reported to say 'Once Aaron Ramsey starts scoring, he won't stop'. And based on Ramsey's current goal scoring form, it would be hard to argue against Wegner's claim. Currently 6th in the top goalscorers in the Premier League this season, Ramsey is just 2 goals behind leading City striker, Sergio Aguero.

Goals in the champions league against Marseille and more recently away at Borussia Dortmund have propelled Ramsey into the spotlight as one of Arsenal's best in-form players. Despite the £45 million signing of German international Mesut Ozil, Gunner's fans have been far more impressed with Ramsey's incredible turnaround as he continues to plough in the goals.

In an interview with Arsenal Fan TV, one excited Gooner said 'Aaron Ramsey is the best player in Europe'. Are we to believe Ramsey is as good as Messi, Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic? I don't think so. But his fine form cannot be disputed and if the goals keep on coming, it would be fair to say Ramsey is certainly one of the best midfielders currently playing in the English Premier League.

Maybe Wegner has called it just about right. The man that Arsenal fans were demanding leave the club only a few months ago seems to have been rewarded for his continued trust in the Welshman. If he keeps the goalscoring up, soon we'll all be calling him the British Messi.

As a United fan, I feel that's more than enough praise I can give an Arsenal player for one day.