Archive for July, 2018

Heroes or Legends?

Monday, July 9th, 2018

The 2018 FIFA World Cup was made memorable partly due to some of the giants of the game exiting the tournament so early. The holders, Germany didn’t make it out of the group stage while former winners Spain and Argentina lost in the round of 16. Spain vs Portugal set the tempo  on the second day of the tournament with a thrilling 3-3 draw. That was swiftly followed by Mexico beating defending champions Germany and Argentina crashing to a heavy defeat against Croatia. All this excitement and drama occurred in the group stage!!!

England did not arrive in Russia with high expectations, and they confirmed that assessment by struggling to dispatch Tunisia in their opening match. Harry Kane scored the match winner in injury time. This was followed by an emphatic 6-1 over a dirty, cynical Panama who wasted so much energy

continually berating the referee. England qualified with those two victories, and played to lose against Belgium to avoid the stronger left side of the draw which they duly accomplished. One couldn’t help wondering though if they had sacrificed some momentum entering the knockout stage of the competition.

Germany were given a lifeline when Tony Kirus scored a late winner against Sweden only to surprisingly lose 0-2 to South Korea, and were duly eliminated. After the dust had settled, the line up for the last sixteen had taken shape:

Uruguay 2 vs Portugal 1                        Spain 1 vs Russia 1

(Russia won on penalties.)

France 4 vs Argentina 3                        Croatia 1 vs Denmark 1

(Croatia won on penalties.)

Brazil 2 vs Mexico 0                               Sweden 1 vs Switzerland 0

Belgium 3 vs Japan 2                            Colombia 1 vs England 1

(England won on penalties.)

The shocks, drama and excitement continued during the round of 16. Uruguay knocked out European Champions Portugal, but unfortunately lost their star striker, Cavanni, to injury. France’s 4-3 win over Argentina was the match of the tournament for me. France are very good when they bring their Gallic flair and suppress their Latin temperament. Of course, having three world class attackers, Pogba, Mbappe and Greizmann, can tilt the scales in their favor.

The most impressive comeback of the tournament was Belgium gifting Japan a two goal lead, but then replying with three late goals after manager Martinez changed the course of the game with some critical substitutions. The hosts Russia were the lowest ranked team left in the tournament, but had just enough fuel in the tank to knock out much fancied Spain. England overcame a very feisty Columbia, and made history by winning their first penalty shoot out in World Cup competition.

Significantly, the sport’s two super stars, Ronaldo and Messi, were on their way home having failed to lift their teams to greater heights. The tournament had arrived at the elite eight and more shocks and awe were in store:

Uruguay 0 vs France 2                     Russia 2 vs Croatia 2 (Croatia won on penalties.)


Brazil 1 vs Belgium 2                         Sweden 0 vs England 2

Uruguay didn’t have the fire power without Cavanni, and France won comfortably. Belgium provided further heroics by defeating Neymar’s Brazil, and England earned a credible  victory over Sweden. Meanwhile Croatia continued to grind out results with another win via the format of a penalty shoot out.

English fans stoked up by their fickle media were daring to dream that the Cup could be returning home for the first time since 1966. The mood of the nation had dismissed their semi-final opponents, Croatia, and speculation was rife on who they would prefer England to play in the final: Belgium or France?


France   1                          vs                           Belgium 0

Croatia  2                          vs                            England 1 (aet)

Belgium’s stunning victory over Brazil had taken its toll, and they were unable to reproduce their “A” game in such a relatively short time to match France’s savoir faire. There was only one goal separating the teams, but France controlled the match from start to finish with stout defending and counter attacking.

England couldn’t have enjoyed a better start to their semi-final  scoring after five minutes through a spectacular free kick by Kevin Trippier. Some talking heads claimed they scored too early, but that’s a silly notion. It’s never too early to score, but the secret is to score one or two more so you have your boot firmly on the opponent’s jugular. Harry Kane had a great chance to make it 2-0 midway through the first half but failed to take it. Normally it was a chance he would make with his eyes shut.

England came out for the second half seemingly with the mindset that they would defend their lead for the ensuing 45 minutes. Big mistake!!!! Croatia, orchestrated by Luco Modric ,dominated the midfield and placed relentless pressure on England’s defence which eventually crumbled. Why oh why did England revert to the long ball? They  finished the tournament in fourth place losing again to Belgium for the bronze medal. Harry kane won the golden boot with 6 goals, but didn’t score in the quarters or semis. Remarkably, Croatia’s last three games went into extra time and each time they prevailed which spoke volumes for their character.

The final between France and Croatia proved to be an entertaining but somewhat controversial affair. France’s opening goal derived from a Griezmann dive which led to a free kick and subsequent own goal by Croatia’s striker whose name I can’t spell. Croatia equalized through a sublime goal by Petrovic who then blotted his copybook by handling the ball at the other end giving away a penalty from which France regained the lead. The referee reverted to AVR (assisted video referee) to make a decision on the handball which was unjust in my opinion.

France came out for the second half with all guns blazing and quickly scored two additional goals via Pogba and Mbappe to take an unassailable 4-2 lead. France’s captain and goalkeeper Lloris made a horrendous error to gift Croatia a goal and a glimmer of hope. Needless to say, sanity was restored and cruised to the finishing line as worthy winners of the World Cup.







The Rise and Fall of The Swansea Way

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

About six weeks ago, Swansea City’s seven year flirtation with  the English Premiership  finally ended. I should be grateful for the time the Swans spent in one of the biggest leagues in the world, but the struggles over the past three seasons to remain in one of the most demanding leagues  has left a sour taste.

What happened to the free-flowing, passing, entertaining football that graced the promotion season and the first five seasons in the Premiership? What happened to the management process that was the envy of many clubs whereby they run the club in the black and never  resorted to running up  a huge debt?

Typically of the Welsh, they screwed things up when the franchise was establishing a base in the Premiership. The name of the game is greed. Huw Jenkins and his fellow cronies had made a good living from the Premiership perks and bonuses, but decided that was not enough and decided to sell a majority holding in the club t0 a couple of Americans who resembled two shifty second hand car salesmen. What possessed the club to sack a manager halfway through a season three years in a row, and expect to be successful?

But I’m getting head of myself. Let’s go back to when the Swans defeated Reading 4-2 in the Championship Playoff Final in 2011 to gain promotion to the Premiership. Brendan Rodgers was the man in charge, but it was Roberto Martinez who had laid the foundations for the “Swansea Way.”

Prior to their inaugural season in the Premiership, the Swans used the transfer window very wisely by securing the services of Danny Graham, Wayne Routledge, Michael Vorm,  Sigurdsson (on loan) and Steven Caulker (on loan). They finished a credible 11th in their first season. Unfortunately for Swansea, their success attracted attention and manager Rodgers was on his way to take charge of Liverpool.

Incredibly, the Swans hierarchy secured the services of former superstar Michael Laudrup. He had a modest record as a manager/coach, but his legendary status in the game provided contacts all over Europe. Consequently, the Swans were very busy in the transfer market bringing in Ki, Hernandez, Chico, Bartley, de Guzman, and the bargain of the century, Michu who cost a paltry 2 million and produced 22 goals in his first season. The Swans won the League Cup in February of 2013 by defeating Bradford City 5-0. The starting eleven for the final was Tremel, Rangel, Ki, Williams, Davies, Britton, De Guzman, Dyer, Hernandez, Routledge and Michu. They  finished the season impressively in 9th place, and it appeared that everything in the garden was rosy.

Prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, the Swans paid a record fee of 14 million pounds for Wilfried Bony quickly followed by the signing of Jonjo Shelvy for 5 million and Jordi Amat for 2 million. Ki appeared to be not to Laudrup’s liking and was sent out on loan to Sunderland. There were rumours that Laudrup was unsettled at the club, and in February 2014 he was sacked following a poor run of form which left the club only 2 points above the relegation zone. At the time of the decision, the team had lost six of their last 8 games.

The Swansea Board then made another surprising move in appointing player Gary Monk to succeed Laudrup as manager. Monk made a great start by guiding the team to a 3-0 win over near neighbors and arch rivals Cardiff City. He comfortably steered the club away from the relegation zone and was rewarded with a three year contract.

During Monk’s first season in charge (2014/15) the club was involved in plethora of transfer activity  with incomings and outgoings. Sigurdsson, Fernandez, Naughton, Montero, Cork, and Grimes were welcome additions for transfer fees totaling 34 million. Davies, Vorm, Chico, Hernandez, MIchu and Bony (January transfer window) left the club for  combined transfer fees of 54 million. Some would argue it was good business, but supporters felt it revealed a lack of ambition selling your top scorer, Bony who had forged a great understanding with Sigurdsson. The club finished in 8th place which proved to be a false dawn.

Prior to the beginning of the season, the club attempted to replace Bony with Gomis, Paloschi (8.5 million,) Eder (6million,) and Andre Ayew on a free transfer. Ayew apart, the new strikers were not up to the task and were subsequently moved on.  Shelvey was sold to Newcastle for 14 million to balance the books, and alarm bells should have started ringing.

In December 2015, Gary Monk previously cited as a future England manager was sacked after only one win in eleven matches. It transpired that he had lost the dressing room following some unsavory incidents off the field. Legendary former player Alan Curtis was given the role of caretaker manager until the rest of the season, only to be told a week later that the club had hired Francesco Guidolin as the new manager. The swift demise of Monk and the chaotic aftermath of finding a new manager did not inspire confidence in the club’s ownership. Chairman Huw Jenkins even flew to South America in a failed attempt to persuade former Argentine manager Bielsa to take over the hot seat.

Guidolin with considerable help from Alan Curtis guided the club to a comfortable 12th position. It was later revealed that the club had wanted Rodgers, along with former player Joe Allen, to return, but were not in a financial position to make it happen. Stalwart and captain Ashley Williams had indicated he wanted a new challenge, and was sold to Everton for 12 million. Meanwhile top scorer Andre Ayew was transferred to West Ham for a fee of 22 million. Failures, Paloschi and Eder were offloaded for a combined fee of 9 million. Ironically, super flop Eder scored the winner for Portugal in the European Championship Final.

A number of new faces were shipped in prior to the 2016/17 season:

Borja Baston (16 million,) Alfie Mawson (5 million,) Llorente  (5 million,) Jordan Ayew (5 million,) Leroy Fer (5 million,) Tom Carroll (5 million,) Martin Olsson (4 million,) Narsingh (4 million,) and Mike Van der Horn (2 million.) Apart from Baston they could have proven to be bargain buys in terms of Premiership spending. However the success of the signings proved to be very mixed as will be revealed later. In July 2016, Americans Jason Levein and Steve Kaplan purchased controlling interest in the club which proved to be a pivotal time in the future of Swansea City Football Club.

The Swans got off to another poor start to a new season, and by October Guidolin was replaced by American Bob Bradley. Naturally, there was no nepotism on display by the new American owners. I’m dripping in cynicism here. Bradley was subsequently sacked after 85 days. Guidolin  had barely been given 2 months of the new season before receiving the chop on his 61st birthday. Bradley was only able to accumulate 8 points from 11 games, 29 goals conceded and he was given a one ticket back to the US of A.

In January 2017, Paul Clement was hired as the new manager, and succeeded in dragging the club from the relegation abyss to a respectable twelfth place. Okay, this is where the quality of the management becomes very murky. In the off season, their best player, Sigurdsson was sold to Everton for 44 million. It was quite a sum of money for the club’s coffers, but the player was never adequately replaced. Sigurdsson was the club’s second top scorer and had the most assists. Not to pour oil on a burning chip pan, but top scorer Llorente was sold to Spurs for 15 million. Another key transfer that slipped under the radar was Jack Cork’s move to Burnley for 8 million.

In return, they paid 15 million for Clucas from Hull City  who had just been relegated. Former favorite Bony was brought back into the fold for 12 million. Problem was he’d barely kicked a ball in eighteen months, and one football punter claimed “his legs had gone” which proved to be spot on. The Swans also signed another Spaniard, Mesa, for 11 million who was supposedly a playmaker but proved to be totally out of his depth in the rigors of the Premiership.

The club appeared to be on a roll of one disastrous signing after another. Sanchez was signed on loan from Bayern Munich based on the recommendation of manager Paul Clement who had previously coached him at the German Club. Alongside Borja Baston, he proved to be one of the worst signings in the history of the Club. The loan signing was a misnomer because Bayern was paid 10 million for his services. Clement would later claim that “the lad was damaged goods.” Whatever!!!

In a process of an ongoing worrying trend, Clement could not repeat his excellent work from the previous season, and by Christmas the Swans were languishing once again at the wrong end of the table. He was subsequently sacked and replaced by former Sheffield Wednesday manager, Carlos Carvalhal, who had  been shown the door 10 days earlier by Wednesday.

In January 2018, Andre Ayew was brought back from West Ham for the princely sum of 20 million pounds. This proved to be yet another calamitous signing since Ayew failed to score a single goal on his return. Carvalhal initially performed like the great redeemer with impressive wins over Arsenal and Liverpool. He quickly extracted the club from the relegation zone and accumulated 33 points, but  appeared to go on the defensive which proved to be his and the club’s undoing.

The Club had reached the sixth round of the FA Cup for the first time since 1964, but didn’t put up much resistance in losing abjectly to Tottenham. This was quickly followed by an embarrassing loss to champions Manchester City where they rolled over and died. These two result were the beginning of the end, and so it proved.

Where did it all go pear shaped? Well, seven managers in seven seasons: Rodgers (left to manage Liverpool,) Laudrup (sacked,) Monk (sacked,) Guidolin (sacked,) Bradley (sacked,) Clement (sacked,) and Carvalhal (out of contract,) doesn’t engender stability. Disastrous moves in the transfer market, no matter who is responsibile, reduced the quality of the squad of players capable of competing in the Premiership. We were constantly assured that the successful under 23 team and youth academy would provide a stream of players for the first team. In reality only Joe Allen and Ben Davies made their mark only to be sold for profit.

One cannot overlook the fact that Olsson, Clucas, and Fer previously played for relegated clubs. Naughton and Carroll were fringe players at Tottenham, and Alfie Mawson was the only recent acquisition that showed true quality. Even he was raw around the edges and didn’t quite fill the void left by Ashley Williams.

I find it  ironic that a quite a number of first team players want to remain in the Premiership with other Clubs. Let me blunt here; maybe if these prima donnas had performed remotely like the premiership  players they aspire to be, the club would have not been relegated.  Fabianski was recently transferred to West Ham for 7 million, Mesa sold to Seville for 7 million, and it’s only a matter of time before the Ayew brothers, Fernandez and Mawson are out the door. Ki was a free agent at the end of the season and played like a geisha girl with one eye  on the  World Cup and the other on signing for a new club. He has recently signed a two year contract with Newcastle United. Mercifully, the boy Sanchez was last spotted on a beach in the Algarve, hopefully never to return to Sunny South Wales again.

What of the future? Well, a couple of weeks ago the Swans hired 43 year old Englishman Graham Potter as their new manager. He has spent the last seven years managing Ostersund in the Swedish League, guiding the club from relative obscurity through the lower divisions to the top of the tree. They played Arsenal in the Europa Cup last season losing 2-4 on aggregate.

The days of “Swanselona” playing free-flowing , entertaining, passing football was a distant memory during last season’s run-in as hopeful balls were pumped up to Jordan Ayew. There is hope that Potter’s arrival at the Liberty Stadium will signal a return to the total football of yesteryear. I would offer one piece of advice to the new manager. Give the  person or persons previously responsible for the disastrous recruitment programme over the past few seasons a one way ticket to Alaska.