Archive for the 'Coaches' Category


Surely Owen would have been a better option for Capello

Michael Owen shows "Ze Germans" how its done

Michael Owen shows "Ze Germans" how its done

To be brutally honest Michael Owen is not my favourite Manchester United player, I appreciate the effort he puts in and like every other United fan duly went mad in the 4-3.

However with the young strikers Sir Alex Ferguson has at his disposal, this season I’ve questioned whether United really need the former Liverpool hero.

There’s no doubt Owen can still do a good job, my argument was that with the likes of Kiko Macheda and Chicharito available as back-up to the front two of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov, did United really need a striker who’ll be 31 in December and has had more than is fair share of injury problems.

I’ve already been pretty much proven wrong as Owen’s brace in the League Cup away at Scunthorpe and more importantly his equaliser at Bolton justified Fergie sticking with him, at least until January.

There’s also the point that having an experienced finisher like Owen in the squad can only be beneficial to the young strikers, who can maybe learn a thing or two from him. After all in a career that’s taken in two of the top clubs in Europe- as well as Liverpool and Newcastle, plus a host of international caps, Owen has always delivered goals and is perhaps the ideal player for someone like Chicharito to learn from.

Despite not being Michael Owen’s biggest fan, even I had to admit being totally dumfounded by his omission from the recent England squad. It’s not that Owen has exactly been a regular for Manchester United this season but surely a player with 40 England goals would have been handy to at least have on the bench.

When it comes to not getting regular football, Owen has started only two games this season, a reason Capello has bandied about for not picking players in the past, we all know that’s poppycock- if you pardon my French.

The nadir of my time as an England fan was watching Emile Heskey take to the field in Bloemfontein as Germany soared into a three goal lead. Heskey had been a substitute more times than he’d started for Aston Villa that season- don’t get me started on how many goals he’d managed- yet found himself playing for the national side at the biggest tournament there is.

Capello’s ‘if you’re not playing regularly for your club, you won’t play for your country’ line just doesn’t ring true. This season Shaun Wright Phillips has figured in less games for Manchester City than Owen has for United, yet the tiny winger still found himself coming off the bench against Montenegro.

I was actually hoping Wayne Rooney might not figure against Montenegro, I thought he should have a few more days off before the game against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. There seems to be this constant cycle of Rooney having a slight knock coming back and not looking right that’s been going on for months. I advocated a couple of full weeks off following his latest ‘slight injury’ and rather foolishly thought England could afford to rest him, against despite what all the England propaganda machine will tell us, should have been a relatively easy side to beat.

However with injuries to Darren Bent and Jermaine Defoe Rooney was about as likely to be rested as Robert Green was to have been picked to start.

The news that the ‘people’s elbow’ Kevin Davies was in the squad made Rooney’s selection seemed more assured. After all if Wazza wasn’t starting then the front two would have been Davies and Crouch and despite Crouch’s goal tally in an England shirt, Capello seems to have a lack of faith in him.

It was the sight of 33 year-old Davies making his debut as England looked for a winning goal that caused me the most confusion since I flicked over to the X-factor on Saturday and saw a Jimmy Saville look-a-like playing a set of bongo drums.

What on earth is going on?! Why would someone who’s fourth in the all-time England goal scoring charts and still deemed good enough to play Champion’s League football, not be at least given a small chance over a player who’s never played, let alone scored for England?

It seems Owen just isn’t on Capello’s radar which is a shame for both him and England because as last night’s bore draw showed- how many shots on target did England muster?- he could have been useful.

In the past Capello has shown he is willing to swallow his pride and bring formerly exiled players back into the fray if he needs them, as he did with David Beckham at Real Madrid.

While it’s hardly time to start panicking the fact is poor performances against mediocre opposition just aren’t good enough for many fans who spend a lot of money following England. If Capello wants to give himself the best chance in qualifying smoothly maybe turning to Owen wouldn’t be such a bad idea.


Five things we learnt from United v Scunthorpe

Phelan tells the streaker to get back in position

Phelan tells the streaker to get back in position

Watching Manchester United reserves- apart from Rio Ferdinand- turn over a mid-table Championship side is hardly enough to give us an insight into the key to Champion’s League glory. However despite all the changes Sir Alex Ferguson made – I don’t care whether Mickey Phelan was on the sidelines we all know who picked the team- and the ease with which United won there were still valuable lessons to be learnt. While the rest of the Premiership’s big boys-bar Arsenal- were licking their wounds and labelling the Carling Cup ‘unimportant,’ United’s romp gave some if it’s fringe players the chance to grab the limelight.

Michael Owen may still have a future at Old Trafford and Bebe is not the anti-christ- despite what the Daily Mail may claim- are just two points we were able to garner from United’s fairly routine Carling Cup victory.

Chicharito does not need to be waiting on the wings. Javier Hernandez has been compared to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and it seems Fergie has decided to do to the young Mexican what he occasionally used to do to the young-looking Norwegian and stick him out on the wing. Fergie has also done this in the past with Danny Welbeck and it hasn’t been all that successful and I believe Welbeck’s first-team performances have suffered because of it. During the Rangers game I noticed that when Michael Owen came on, Chicharito was moved out to the wing and I hoped it was just a one-off to accommodate three strikers for the final ten minutes as United searched for a winner. Last night however with Owen, Kiko Macheda and Chicharito all starting it was fairly inevitable that one of them would be shifted out wide and the smart money was on it being the Little Pea. Chicharito shone at the World Cup as a striker and to see him being used as a wide player is an obvious waste of his talents. Although it was far from a terrible performance by the Mexican it was obvious from early on that this isn’t a position that suits him and hopefully we wont see him there again too often.

Chris Smalling is growing bigger. Okay so its against Scunthorpe but what the heck I’m going to get a little bit carried away and say that Smalling has really impressed these last couple of weeks. His performance against Rangers was solid- although admittedly even my wheelchair-bound grandma could mark Kenny Miller- especially with Rio next to her- but he still did well. Last night his performance at the back was solid but he also showed glimpses of what he’s capable of going forward. He took his goal superbly and looked extremely comfortable on the ball- dare I even say Rio-esque. The thing with Smalling is it was almost expected that he’d take a long time to settle into life at United as since signing for the club his performances for Fulham had been dare I say Titus Bramble-esque. Smalling is coming along nicely however and with two full ninety minutes under his belt plus a cracking goal – dare I say it was Rooney-esque- okay I’ll stop that now- his confidence will surely be sky-high. Who knows could Jonny Evans be looking over his shoulder in the next few months?

Tomas Kuzszcak is not the answer. Whoa! I hear you scream, a so-so performance in the Carling cup is no reason to pour dandelion and burdock on the chip barm that is Kuszczak’s United career. However I feel that the young Pole has never quite convinced either Fergie or many of the United faithful that he’s the man to replace Edwin Van Der Sar. The fact Fergie preferred Ben Foster at the beginning of last season showed that Kuszczak needed to win the United boss over and the ‘keepers recent comments that he would be willing to move away from Old Trafford to gain first-team football can hardly have helped. Last night Kuszscak looked a little dodgy on crosses and should have done better for Scunthorpe’s second goal. While it is hardly likely to be the final nail in the coffin of his United career it could well turn out to be one of them.

Owen is not a Jamie Carragher loving past it scouser who should be shipped off to Villa just yet.
A few weeks ago I questioned whether United really needed Owen anymore, with Macheda, Chihcharito and a couple of other strikers who’s names escape me occupying the Old Trafford dressing room. Following his decision to once again don a Liverpool top then his anonymous cameo against Rangers I was practically convinced it was time for him to leave. However Owen’s well-taken brace showed that there may still be a future for him at Old Trafford- Fergie may also feel his experience and finishing ability could be useful to some of the young strikers to learn from. Of course Owen could well be off to join his old boss Gerrard Houllier at Villa in January, but following last night’s performance, plus the fact Fergie still seems to hold him in high regard, it may be a little longer before we see every United fans second favourite scouser leave Old Trafford.

Bebe is not the second coming of Ali Dia. Contrary to some of the -mainly- Daily Mail’s reporting Bebe is not the disaster he’s been labelled. Quite why there has been so much negativity around a player who is a real ‘rags to riches’ tale- quite literally- is beyond me but the Portuguese winger’s fifteen minute cameo was enough to see he does have a lot of talent. The signs were there against Aston Villa reserves last week but with a few tricks, lightening pace and the confidence to run at players and shoot from distance, Bebe is showing that he’s a quality player. Whether he’ll figure much this season remains to be seen but Tiago Manuel Dias Correia is definitely an exciting prospect for the future.


Which managers can survive the battle for fourth place?

The contest for fourth place in the premier league is becoming almost as exciting as…. err…the battle for first place in the premier league. With Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City, Aston Villa and possibly Everton –stranger things have happened- all battling it out for a place in the Champion’s League the repercussions for three of the clubs managers could be very similar.
First of all, let’s get the two managers out of the way whose jobs are more than safe regardless of where their team finishes.

David Moyes will be at Everton next season even if they fail to win a game from now until May- which going by current form is about as likely as the Scot taking a job at Eastlands as a ball-boy. Should Everton by some miracle actually achieve fourth place then it will be the greatest shock in modern football since Craig Fagan scored a goal. Everton and Moyes, will probably be happy to finish the season in the form they’ve been showing recently and look forward to the next campaign with confidence.

Martin O’Neill, like his colleague over at Goodison Park, is under no real pressure to deliver fourth place to Villa- at least not job wise. Should Villa fail to qualify for the Champion’s League, you’d be pretty surprised if the board decided to get rid of O’Neill. Despite some rather disappointing results recently, the pocket-sized manager is still one of the most respected in the game and you’d expect him to improve the squad in the summer and try and finally achieve what he’s been threatening to do for the past two years and end the ‘top four’ domination of the top four league places.

It is when we get to the other three teams in the fourth spot ‘mix’ so to speak that we see there’s the chance that some, or maybe even all of them could be joining the dole queue in the summer.

The safest one would appear to be Harry Redknapp, after all when he took over the Spurs side early on last season they had just endured their worst start to a season since time began and his predecessor had helpfully sold off almost the entire strike force. This season Spurs have at times looked awesome, with 9-1 victories, bag loads of goals- including several hat-tricks and a cup run all making it a time to remember. Should Spurs lift their second piece of silverware in almost a decade in the FA cup then Redknapp can rest assured his job will be safe. However there’s a slim chance- and I say slim more from what I’ve been hearing from Spurs’ fans rather than any league tables- that should Tottenham, fail to land any silverware and finish outside the top four then ‘Arry could be on his way. It does seem highly unlikely that a manager who has taken a team from bottom of the premier league to the top five or six, in less than two seasons would be shown the door but is it really beyond the realms of possibility? Redknapp is 63 years-old and has recently admitted taking pills for his heart and has also had worries over allegations of tax evasion. Again I don’t think there is much chance of Redknapp leaving WHL in the summer but if the board, who’ve backed him magnificently in the transfer market decide they may be better off giving a younger coach a chance to succeed where ‘Arry failed he could be on his way. Redknapp often strikes me as a manager who has to be doing something constantly, whether it’s signing players, giving interviews, or making funny gestures, he seems to be constantly ‘on the go’ and you’d imagine the only way he’d leave WHL is if he was dragged out kicking and screaming.

Rafa Benitez on the other hand, is almost certain to be shown the exit door from Anfield should Liverpool fail to win fourth spot-regardless of how much kicking and screaming he does. Excuses and time seem to be finally running out for Benitez and even though this season he has been hampered by a lack of real financial clout due the ongoing Hicks-Gillette saga, you sense that it is a matter of months rather than years before he’s finally shown the door. His one possible saving grace could be the Europa League, but even if he wins that it will not give him Champion’s League qualification so the real question is ‘would winning the Europa League pacify the fans?’ Somehow I doubt it, especially if Liverpool fans have to endure Manchester United- who many believed they’d be challenging for the title again- lift more silverware. Benitez must realise that winning fourth spot is practically essential to him keeping his job, a club with a history such as Liverpool’s cannot stomach being out of Europe’s top competition for what is essentially a season and a half. Out of any managers mentioned Benitez is the one who needs fourth spot the most.

That just leaves Roberto Mancini over at Eastlands, who’s done a fairly decent job since he took over at Manchester City from Mark Hughes – which may be the problem. The idea of a manager getting sacked after just five months when their team is in the top six would seem preposterous to most normal clubs. However since the sheikh rattle and roll brigade took over, nothing at City can be classed as normal. The club now has enough money to have ridiculous expectations, the owners are willing to bankroll any transfers regardless of how over-inflated they are, but you’d imagine they expect quite a lot of success in return- ‘decent’ may not be enough. Spending hundreds of millions on a ‘project’ and not seeing it in the top competition available may make the owners consider new management. This sounds overly harsh on Mancini who’s hardly had a chance to bring in his own players and has seldom produced a bad result. It would be a big surprise if the Italian was shown the exit door in the summer , the problem is with so much money being spent and the possibility that rent-a-banana Gary Cook could have some influence over who the owners entrust with their team anything seems possible. I personally expect Mancini to be at City next season, regardless of their final finish, the only way I could see him leaving is if the club not only fail to reach fourth spot but if another more successful manager becomes available. The irony may be too much to take if Jose Mourinho left Internazionale in the summer and was persuaded to replace Mancini again. Somehow I can’t see it happening but then again I never thought I’d see the day we were calling Manchester City ‘The richest club in the world.’

One answer to all these theories and conjecture is that all the aforementioned clubs simply swap managers. Get the chairman together and then put all the manager’s car keys in a bowl-like they do at certain parties, so I’ve been told- and whoever gets chosen moves to that club. Redknapp could carry on constantly buying and selling players at Liverpool, Benitez could lure Torres to Eastlands and Mancini could try a dark blue and white scarf at WHL, everyone could be a winner.


Pulis, Hodgson and McLeish are the real ‘managers of the year’

Pulis- spreading some joy on the touchline.

When the manager of the year award is handed out in May it’s a pretty safe bet that Tony Pulis won’t need to hire a tuxedo. With Stoke currently occupying 11th place in the Premier League it hardly seems realistic to predict any prizes heading their manager’s way. The same can be said of Roy Hodgson and Alex McLeish, although there teams are sitting comfortably in mid-table they’re unlikely to win anything other than credit when it comes to awards.

Since the Premier League manager’s awards inception in 1994, the man in charge of the champions has been the winner every season- bar 2001 when the powers that be decided George Burley deserved a nod for guiding Ipswich to fifth. This year the chances are that Carlos Ancelotti will be lifting the almost irrelevant accolade unless of course Sir Alex, or maybe even Arsene Wenger can overtake the Blues at the top of the table. Yet would Ancelotti deserve to be classed as manager of the year for winning the title? Surely he would you cry after all he’d have not only stopped United winning a fourth successive crown, but also have done what no other manager since Jose Mourinho has achieved- winning the title in his debut season. Let’s look at the facts though, last season United won the league by playing worse than any champions in recent memory, this year they seem to be attempting to go one better –or worse- by winning the title by playing quite badly on a regular basis. If Chelsea do win the title, yes of course it’s an achievement but quite frankly a top Chelsea side would be out of reach for Fergie’s floundering team this year, not a mere four points ahead.

Then there’s the chance that Sir Alex does what he does best and wins yet another title just as people are writing him off. Well as I’ve just mentioned if that happens, it will be one of the least impressive title winning campaigns ever. A win is a win, of course and Fergie will have made history, yet again, so will receive the plaudits he’s become accustomed to. If, although it seems unlikely Wenger does manage to overcome the top two then he’ll have justified his transfer, reserve cup side, giving youngsters a chance, Sol Campbell, Manuel Almunia, playing football the right way, 35 passes before a shot policy. Everyone will no doubt be queuing up to tell him how they always had faith in him and his victory is a victory for football. Possibly. Yet he’d also have seen his side beaten in their own backyard, comfortably by both top rivals and endured some of the most calamitous goalkeeping since Gomes sorted his act out, plus Wenger would have won the title after trying and failing for five years. Whichever manager does lift the title there’s a good argument to be made that none of them would have really been at the top of their game, merely not as bad as their nearest rivals- admittedly requisite for reward, but uninspiring nonetheless.

Then there’s the 2nd tier of English football, ranging from Man City, Villa and Spurs. If any of these manage to beat Liverpool to fourth spot then there could be some justification for giving the man in charge the manager of the year award. However there’s a good reason why none of them would deserve it. Firstly at Man City Mancini inherited a team in a good position with an excellent squad, to give him an award for just over half a season’s effort would be a little generous. Martin O’Neill would seem like a worthy recipient but he’d have grabbed fourth spot because Liverpool would have declined rather than Villa upping their game, after all Benitez’s side have been a shadow of the one last season and off-field angst seems to have upset the whole club including the team. Harry Redknapp’s Spurs would have achieved the same, merely overtaking a distraught Liverpool team by default rather than amazing their fans with a consistent campaign, as numerous and articles have highlighted, Spurs have had a mixed season to say the least, regardless of how it ends. Of course if Liverpool do achieve fourth, then giving Benitez a manager of the year award would seem crazy considering the expectations many had of his team going one better then last season or at least mounting some form of title challenge.

That moves us into the 3rd tier of the premier league, ranging from Everton through to Sunderland. Moyes has done another fantastic job at Goodison with recent victories over United and Chelsea, making many wonder what might have been had they not started the season so badly. Moyes may well deserve to be named manager of the year- he’s won the LMA version more than Fergie- especially considering the injuries he’s had to deal with. The only reason he may not receive such recognition is that he’s also overseen, two derby defeats, an opening day mauling and several disappointing away losses. This season for Everton has been good, rather than great. Sunderland’s Steve Bruce would probably get the award if it was for honesty. Never shy of admitting when his team are poor, he’s found himself making a lot of admissions lately as Sunderland have been dire. Sam Allardyce at Blackburn has done a steady job but he’s merely lived up to what you’d expect rather than surpassed any expectations. Gianfranco Zola has had a bit of a disappointing season this time round- admittedly through no fault of his own as he’s had little or no money but it’s been disappointing nonetheless. Mick McCarthy has got some decent results at Wolves but the idea of listening to him give a speech is enough to stop anyone handing him any prizes. That just leaves the rest of the relegation battlers and the fact that they’re battling the drop should prevent any of their managers getting any awards-unless they give it Avram Grant out of sympathy so that he can sell it.

That leaves just my trio of real contenders. Pulis deserves plaudits for avoiding the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’ and actually picking up where he left off last season by making the Britannia Stadium a difficult place to visit and even picking up some points on the road. Hodgson has done it again, making his Fulham side one of the real banana skins in the league and he’s even managed the impossible by turning Bobby Zamora into an England contender. As for McLeish, his Birmingham side have been the real surprise package going on a twelve-match unbeaten league run and taking points off three of the top four this season.

Of course the season’s not over yet and as Hull proved last year, there’s always the possibility of a rapid free-fall happening at Birmingham, Stoke or Fulham. As this season has shown though, that looks highly unlikely. If the powers that be really wanted to give the Premier League manager’s award to someone who really deserves it, then they could set a new precedent by giving it to one of the managers who’ve managed to exceed expectations rather than just fulfil them; somehow though I doubt it.


Sir Alex’s sidekicks remembered

Carlos Queiroz laughs off talk of Mickey Phelan

It’s been a long time since Sir Alex made the trip down from Aberdeen to take over from Big Ron Atkinson at Old Trafford. In the past 24 years the United boss has had seven assistants, several of whom have departed Old Trafford in search of pastures new. Here’s a look at how Fergie’s former second-in-commands have fared over the years.

Archie Knox- 1986-1991-Knox came to Old Trafford with Fergie from Aberdeen in 1986 and helped to lay the foundations which culminated in an FA cup victory in 1990. Knox left soon after that in 1991 deciding he wanted to move back to Scotland where he became Walter Smith’s assistant at Rangers. While at Ibrox he helped the club to six titles in seven years before following Smith down to Everton. Following Smith’s sacking Knox became involved with the Scotland team under Craig Brown for three years. Spells at Milwall, Coventry and Livingston- as assistant- as well as a short stint as Scotland under-21 boss followed. Knox eventually found himself in the unenviable position of being Sammy Lee’s number two at Bolton, after being let got, Knox joined Paul Ince at Blackburn in another ill-fated coaching set-up. Is now re-united with his former Scotland boss Brown at Motherwell, why he chose to leave Old Trafford is anyone’s guess.

Brian Kidd- 1991 -1998 – Kiddo was an extremely well-liked figure with players and fans alike- who can forget his over-the-top celebrations following Steve Bruce’s winner against Sheffield Wednesday- when he was promoted from the youth set-up. As a player Kidd had scored on his nineteenth birthday for United in the European Cup final against Benfica, so despite going on to play for Man City he was a popular choice as Fergie’s number two. After ending United’s 26 year wait for the title, then delivering two doubles and a further league title, Kidd unexpectedly left during the 98-99 season to manage Blackburn. His time at Ewood Park was not a happy one as the club were relegated and he was sacked by Jack Walker the following season. Despite this failure Kidd remained in much demand as a coach and he had spells at Leeds and a brief stint under Sven with England- he left due to health reasons. He was back in the Premier League as Neil Warnock’s number two- another unenviable role- before eventually ending up as Paul Hart’s coach at Pompey. Kidd is now assistant to Mancini at City but thankfully doesn’t insist on wearing the ‘fashionable’ blue and white scarf.

Steve McClaren- 1998-2001- Before his ill-fated stint as England boss, and even before he ended Middlesbrough’s trophy drought McClaren was Fergie’s assistant during the a hugely successful short spell. Joining from Derby mid-way through the 98-99 season, McClaren helped United to their most triumphant season ever, instantly gaining a reputation as one of the world’s top coaches. McClaren then stuck around to help oversee United complete a hat-trick of title wins before moving to the Riverside. After winning the league cup and getting thrashed in the UEFA final, McClaren was awarded the national job-after being Sven’s assistant- where he actually succeeded in making Erikson’s time in charge look highly successful. Currently on a career rehabilitation program in Holland with FC Twente. After guiding the team to second in place in the Dutch top-flight last season he is now trying to stop himself from talking with a Dutch accent in interviews as his team occupy 2nd spot behind PSV.

Jimmy Ryan- 1998 & 2001-02- Ryan’s two tenures as Fergie’s assistant were brief and fairly unmemorable. Promoted from the youth team when McClaren left- Ryan had previously been number two following the departure of Kidd. Ryan was the only man to take charge of a United Premier League game other than Fergie when Sir Alex had a family bereavement to attend in 1998. That one game in charge- a 3-2 loss to Middlesbrough at Old Trafford is probably all Ryan’s times as number two will be remembered for. Now coaching the Youth Academy at United- with far more success.

Walter Smith- 2003-2004- One of Sir Alex’s buddies from Scotland, former Rangers and Everton manager Smith joined with the club out of the title race but looking good in Europe and the FA cup. Unfortunately one of Smith’s first games as assistant saw Jose Mourinho’s Porto grab a draw at Old Trafford to send United crashing out of Europe. Despite this set-back United did go on to lift the FA cup beating Millwall at Wembley. Smith then left to take charge of the Scotland team-failing to qualify for the 2006 World cup- before returning to Rangers. In his first season back he helped guide his team to their first European final in 36 years in the UEFA cup, where they were beaten on penalties by Zenith St. Petersburg. Last season Smith saw his side win the domestic double and they are currently top of the SPL.

Carlos Queiroz- 2002-03 & 2004-08 – The perma-tanned Portuguese national boss has had two spells as Fergie’s assistant. After being in charge of the South African national side, and guiding them to the World Cup in 2002 he caught the eye of Sir Alex. His first spell came in 2002 when he helped United to regain the title from Arsenal. He left in the summer of 2003 to take charge of Real Madrid but struggled at the Bernabeu. Claude Makelele had been sold under his nose and despite having a team full of Galacticos he failed to win any major honours and was sacked after one season. His return to Old Trafford started shakily as United failed to win any honours other than a solitary League Cup in the first two years. The 2006-07 season saw the emergence of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo as United regained the Premier League crown. With the success of the 2008 double winning season, Queiroz’s star was again on the rise and this time he left United to take charge of the Portugese national side. The World Cup qualifying campaign started off badly for Portugal and they only eventually qualified via a play-off. This summer will be the chance to see just how good a coach Queiroz really is in his own right.

Mike Phelan is now in charge of giving the interviews on Match of the Day- and some would argue little more than that- it remains to be seen whether he’ll enjoy a successful career once he leaves Old Trafford. He may do well to take a look at some of Sir Alex’s other coaches before deciding to take on a manager’s job, as many have found moving from under Fergie’s shadow is not always a happy time.