Kick Off

“Modern football fans are less likely to sing than the ones they squeezed out.”

by David Chidgey.

‘Atmosphere’ was a great track by Joy Division – gloomy and downbeat with references to “walking in silence”. It seems that Jose Mourinho has taken his cue from Ian Curtis in openly criticising Chelsea Supporters for their lack of ‘atmosphere’.

Jose Mourinho Chelsea vs Liverpool 20132014

Jose’s criticisms are merely a symptom of a bigger problem with modern football

Mourinho has been criticsed for breaking an unwritten rule by criticising supporters who pay their hard earned money week in week out to back him and the team. I was there on Saturday, and in truth, the atmosphere was all right in the first half, albeit fairly quiet in the second (no doubt as a result of nerves and frustration after QPR had equalised). It seems odd therefore that Mourinho has chosen this particular match to come out with this veiled attack on his own supporters.

And therein lies the truth perhaps, in that the master deflector was taking attention away from what he considered to be a poor performance by the team. It certainly worked as the press and social media have been talking about nothing else since! As it happens, I don’t think Chelsea played as badly as Mourinho clearly thought they did, which makes this attack even stranger.

The reaction amongst Chelsea supporters has been equally critical. In fact I have seldom heard Mourinho so heavily criticised by his own supporters – the very same supporters who clamoured for his return having had to endure a manager (Rafa Benitez) for whom they had nothing but hatred.

They have a point. It seems that Mourinho (unusually for him) is showing little empathy for the long-suffering supporter and even less understanding.

The reality is that atmosphere at Chelsea and most big Premier League clubs is a patch on what it used to be – look at Old Trafford when Manchester United played Chelsea. Even the fabled Anfield was like a morgue on one of their ‘famous European nights’ against Real Madrid the other week. The bottom line is that poor atmospheres are endemic at big clubs in modern football.

Chelsea have a particularly aggressive stewarding policy where ‘persistent standing’ is met with letters threatening to remove your season ticket and a hot-line to ‘grass up’ anyone deemed to be behaving unacceptably. 99.9% of football supporters will tell you that it is much easier to sing, chant and generally make a noise when you have supporters collectively standing.

When faced with stewarding of this type (backed up and reinforced, it must be said, by local council regulations, police influence and threats of reduced capacity) is it surprising that it kills the atmosphere? It is no surprise that away supporters, and Chelsea’s in particular, are far more vocal as they literally stand and sing as one.

Ironically Mourinho has contributed to the dearth of atmosphere at Stamford Bridge in his first stint as manager, by moving the often vociferous away support (of course no sanctions for standing are applied to them!) away from his dug out in the East Stand and into the sacred Shed End – cutting one of our most vocal areas in half as a result. He would do well to remember that.

But there are many, many more reasons why atmosphere is getting worse at Stamford Bridge and elsewhere, some of which I discussed in an interview with Danny Kelly’s ‘Season Ticket’ show on talkSPORT on Saturday night. The Chelsea Supporters’ Trust, of which I am a Board member, conducts an annual survey of its members, and the issue of ‘Atmosphere’ is consistently mentioned as an area for concern and indeed for improvement.

In reality the atmosphere will not improve unless substantial change is made and the club’s strategies in how it deals with supporters is fundamentally re-thought. Many of us believe that the key to improving match day atmosphere is to introduce ‘Safe Standing’ areas as championed by the excellent Jon Darch of the Football Supporters Federation. This is the model that German football has adopted and is exemplified by the ‘yellow wall’ at Borussia Dortmund with thousands of vocal supporters standing in one impressive stand.

Fans of Dortmund are renowned for their atmosphere

Fans of Dortmund are renowned for their atmosphere

Another measure we must adopt from German football is the recognition that ticket prices are just too expensive. In Germany, legislation ensures that a proportion of tickets are sold at a price affordable to the ‘working man’. In my view the systematic increase in ticket prices in the Premier League is the root cause of the problems we now have with lack of atmosphere.

The ‘working man’ and the teenage supporter (16-25 year olds in particular) have historically been the bedrock of vocal support at football grounds. However, it is no longer their game. Over the last 20 years they have been systematically priced out. Football has become gentrified or some might say ‘civilised’ as a result – certainly at Stamford Bridge.

The newer football fans who have replaced them are less likely to sing (or know the songs) and those who can afford to pay £50 and upwards for a ticket are perhaps more likely to feel some sort of entitlement to be entertained, rather than see it as their responsibility to support. An ageing football demographic (largely as a result of the expense) does not help, as even those who screamed and shouted as teenage supporters may feel they no longer need to do so – believing that they have done their bit.

Ultimately the blame lies with the Premier League and the clubs themselves for disregarding their most loyal supporters in order to ‘market’ to a ‘customer’ base prepared to pay ever higher prices for tickets, merchandise and consumables. The amount of ‘tourists’ that turn up to Premier League games simply cannot help with the atmosphere.

Tourists (those who come to a game but with little or no knowledge of the game or the club, and are merely there to tick off another attraction on the list) are by definition neutral. If you want a decent atmosphere, there is no place for neutrals at a football match.

Instead of berating the very supporters who have had to put up with all of these issues over the last 20 years, and witness the game they know and love disappearing, Jose would be better advised to actually work with the supporters and take these issues to the people who are really to blame, and in doing so effect some real change.

Whilst I disagree with how Mourinho has handled this, it is true that there is a real, football-wide problem regarding atmosphere and the points he makes are valid. It may be that with Mourinho putting it foursquare on the agenda, supporters can pressurise the clubs and the Premier League to change things.

It would be a great help if Mourinho were to join us in doing so rather than criticising from the side-lines. The Chelsea Supporters’ Trust has a board meeting in a couple of weeks’ time, and Jose is cordially invited to join us. We can perhaps educate him on the finer points on the issues around the lack of atmosphere and hopefully garner his support in challenging the club and Premier League to help us do something about it. And we’ll be happy to provide him with a nice bottle of red wine.

David ‘Stamford Chidge’ Chidgey presents the award winning Chelsea FanCast TV show and podcast which can be seen every Monday at 19.00 on chelseafancast.com or You Tube or heard at mixlr.com/chelsea-fancast/ or downloaded from ITunes. Follow them on twitter @StamfordChidge and @ChelseaFanCast

 

Hurry Up ‘Arry, Come On!
Harry Under Pressue; Rob Shepherd & Roy Dalley debate his future

BOBBY founder Rob Shepherd and columnist Roy Dalley met at Wembley Stadium way back in 1978, when they were a couple of teenagers plugging telephones into the press box for the national newspaper journalists of the day. In later years they would find their own readers with a variety of Fleet Street titles, and share a pint or two along the way discussing the issues that preoccupied football supporters and reporters alike.

Which got us thinking: What would happen if BOBBY gave them a topic to debate, got the drinks in and turned on a voice recorder…?

With QPR lingering at the foot of the table with only one win so far this season we thought we’d start with; What does the future hold for Harry Redknapp..?

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Redknapp is under pressure…

DALLEY: Alright Shep? You’ve hardly changed since that Graham Taylor documentary. Well, perhaps a few more worry lines, though I daresay that’s not because of a former England manager, rather the manager England didn’t want: Harry Redknapp. I know he’s your mate, but I think his current problems at QPR suggest the FA got it right when they overlooked him in favour of Roy Hodgson… ?

SHEP: All good Royston! Obviously it’s been a poor start by QPR but despite what the Football Manager computer game generation seem to think, football managers are not magicians! Yes, of course the role of a manager is vital and while top bosses can make silk purses out of sows ears – as Harry has done in the past – there is usually a limit to what a manager can do with the player resources and budget he has at his disposal. Where would QPR be right now if either Louis Van Gaal or Manuel Pelligrini was in charge?!?

That said, maybe Harry is coming to the end of his managerial career and Rangers could do with the adrenalin rush a new manager can bring to a struggling club …and that should be good news for England. If Harry was free and available then I think the FA should waste no time in moving Roy Hodgson into the role of Technical Director and appointing Harry Redknapp as manager of the England team. Then maybe England could have shot at winning Euro 2016, rather than merely turning up to make up the numbers and satisfy the sponsors. Oh, what can I get you Roy..?

DALLEY: I’ll have the usual, and don’t forget the little umbrella… But what kind of England would we be watching if the FA took your advice (which they won’t!)..? I don’t want them to “knock it up to Crouchy”, I don’t want Defoe to come back from Canada, not now, and I certainly don’t want Rob Green in goal. A very slight exaggeration, perhaps, but I get the feeling Harry hasn’t kept pace with football’s evolution. Yeah, I take your point about the train-spotters and their fetish for statistics, but we are producing more technical players at long last, and they need proper stimulation, not just a pat on the back…

SHEP: Garcon! That will be a namby-pamby cocktail for Royston here and a cheeky Rioja for me. Disagree Roy; you’re being sucked in by the myth that the ‘modern’ game is producing more technical players… and another media myth that Redknapp is an off-the-cuff coach, a bark-bollock and bite merchant. More technical? Tell me which current England players are more ‘technical’ than Moore, Charlton, Hoddle, Gascoigne, Waddle and Barnes..? I could go on. They might eat more pasta these days but half of ’em can’t pass to each other!
As for Harry keeping pace with football evolution; People only say that because he has old school ways. And what’s wrong with that? But he HAS embraced many of the changes the game has seen and to suggest he is a long ball merchant is tosh Roy. Harry always encourages a passing game. And by the way he has been more tactically flexible and diverse over the years than Hodgson.

DALLEY: A fair riposte… one that requires the removal of my jacket and a quick slurp, methinks. Fair play Rob for your continued support of Redknapp, particularly at a time when QPR are bottom of the League with one win in seven and a goal difference of -11. To me he has the air of a man who has simply lost his desire. It’s often trotted out how a football team is a reflection of its manager, and QPR are a rather slow, ponderous and unfit team compared to many, perhaps all, further up the table. I read extracts of his latest book the other day (yeah, I know taking stuff in isolation is hazardous but…) he seems rather bewildered by the game’s evolution in this country, by the modern footballer, even by the more abstinent lifestyle of many of these new athletes. He finds it disheartening to see one of his players sitting quietly through a day at the races.

My point is I think he’s failed to keep up with football in the same way he’s failed to embrace new technology. Listen, I know he was schooled at the West Ham Academy in the days when that phrase actually meant something, and I know a few decent players have emerged elsewhere in the country over the past few decades – but not enough of them! Perhaps a call from his country might perk him up a bit, though I daresay his early retirement is probably more likely…

SHEP: Early retirement!?! I think Redknapp is doing well to still be going at the top level at the age of 67 after over 30 years in professional management. I don’t buy into this technology argument. The ball is still round and a size5; the goals are still eight yards wide and eight foot tall. The box is still 18 yards from the goal-line. The half way line is still in the middle of the park, the byline is still there, the corner flags. Fundamentally the game is still the same. The grass is greener and better than many of the mud heaps they used to have to play on. That should mean the passing and dribbling is better, but you can’t say it is. Players are more athletic I grant you, but then the game seems to be producing too many athletes and not enough footballers.

As for tactics; well it’s not as if they didn’t exist back in the day and despite hype to the contrary Redknapp is more tactically astute than he is given credit for. In my book he is more flexible and adventurous than Hodgson on that front. As for embracing more technology, I am not sure what you mean. Do you think a manager needs an Ipad to show players what he wants to do or speak to them via twitter? On other ‘scientific’ front Redknapp has always made sure he has a broad church of backroom staff working with him. The recollections in his book resonate with me because from where I stand the game is becoming ever more sterile with money and branding seemingly more important for players and clubs. And where has the fun gone? Maybe though Roy you are right that Harry could do with a new challenge… sadly though I don’t think a call from the country will come. It looks like we are stuck with Hodgson through to the Euro 16 finals.

Right Royston, we are running a dry ship here, and it’s your round…

DALLEY: Yes indeed, Redknapp has every right to feel satisfied with his life’s work. The sad fact is his one major trophy as a manager is one more than any other English manager in decades. Blimey, who was the last Englishman to win silverware? (It’s not Howard Wilkinson is it!?) Quite apart from that his personality and, yes, much of the football played by his teams, has illuminated the game. And, of course, Transfer Deadline Days will never quite be the same without him. But I daresay England’s young lions are in safe hands with Hodgson for the time being…

Another Rioja on the way Shep, together with something from the jukebox. How about a bit of Sham 69…?

Look out for more from BOBBY columnists @robshepherd5 and @RoyDalley or suggest topics for them to discuss by contacting them via Twitter.

 

Rooney Will Be The Record Holder But He Will Never Be In The Same League As Charlton…

by Rob Shepherd.

Wayne_Rooney_of_England

Rooney: closing in on Charlton’s record

Wayne Rooney failed to fill his boots in the 5-0 sleepwalk over San Marino last week but a penalty in that game then his free-kick strike in the 1-0 win over Estonia has edged him closer to Bobby Charlton’s England goal record of 49.

As it stands only Jimmy Greaves (44) and Gary Lineker (48) are ahead of Rooney who is now on 43 after that goal in Tallin, struck ironically just before manager Roy Hodgson was about to take him off, such had been his profligacy prior to then.

So Rooney is on the threshold of a great achievement in the history of the English game, but greatness..?

Without taking anything away from Rooney there are more ‘cheap’ international goals about than there were in Lineker’s day let alone in the Greaves and Charlton era. There are more internationals, too.

For the record Greaves’ haul of 44 came in just 57 games. Lineker’s 48 came in 80 matches. It took Charlton, who don’t forget was a winger turned midfielder rather than a striker, 106 for his 49. In that respect Rooney’s ratio is similar. On November 15 at Wembley he is set win his 100th cap against Slovenia.

It is pointed out that Rooney has scored more “competitive” goals than any England player. But there are far more qualifying games than there used to be and more “minnow” opponents. But given his age (he is 29 later this month) it is likely that Rooney will not only break Charlton’s goal scoring record but surpass Peter Shilton’s 125 cap appearance record as well.

BobbyCharlton

Sir Bobby in his heyday

It has been something of a chequered England career, especially when it has come to tournament finals, consequently it will be hard for many to see Rooney as a true England legend.

That said, for some of his faults Rooney is the only current England player who would have got close to making England’s 1966 World Cup winning side or indeed the Italia 90 which reached the World Cup semi finals.

Given that Roy Hodsgon has made him England captain there seems little doubt Rooney will surpass Charlton’s record, perhaps by the end of this season.

No doubt Sir Bobby – especially considering the Manchester United connection – will salute Rooney graciously but anybody who thinks the record books and statistics tell the whole story are misguided.

Bobby Moore was the inspiration of the World Cup winning team while Geoff Hurst eventually took the goal scoring plaudits with his unique hat-trick in the 1966 final after he took the place of an injured Jimmy Greaves (the best ever instinctive English striker) but in many ways it was Charlton who was the talisman.

Charlton was the England player football fans around the world viewed with most awe.

He scored two “routine” but crucial goals when England overcame Portugal in the semi finals (Rooney has only managed one World Cup goal in three tournaments) but the strike that summed up Charlton best was his spectacular effort in the group stage win over Mexico.

Rooney has yet to and one suspects never will score goals for England quite as important. Certainly he will never be a true football legend, the kind that Sir Bobby Charlton has become.

@robshepherd5

 

The Lion Who Saved The Ryder Cup How Former Millwall Man Kept Fledgling Competition Alive

by Neil Fissler.

IF it wasn’t for the efforts of a former Millwall footballer, this week’s Ryder Cup probably wouldn’t be taking place.

Charles Burgess – known as “Chay” – has been largely forgotten in the history of golf’s most prestigious team competition.

But without the vision and drive of this Scotsman to keep the fledgling competition alive, the Ryder Cup could have died a long time ago.

Burgess – born in 1873 – joined Southern League Millwall Athletic in 1898, arriving in London’s East Ferry Road after spells at home-town Montrose, Sunderland and Dundee.

Chay Burgess

Chay Burgess

He was to make 62 appearances for The Lions before going on to Newcastle United and Portsmouth where he won a Southern League winners’ medal in 1902.

But it was a full 18 years after emigrating to the United States in 1910 that destiny called him to play a pivotal role arose in the survival of golf’s greatest competition – to be contested for the 40th time when the continents of Europe and the US meet on Friday at Gleneagles.

In 1927, the first Ryder Cup was played at Worcester, Massachussetts with the USA thrashing Great Britain 9.5 to 2.5. It was felt that a contest in 1928 would be too costly and impractical so it was decided that the event would be played every two years. But in 1929, the US PGA once again didn’t have the funds to send a team by liner across the Atlantic to England to defend the trophy.

Burgess, however, was determined to keep the cross-Atlantic competition alive so he arranged an impressive fund-raising tournament involving some of the greatest names in the history of American golf.

Walter Hagen, who was to play a pivotal role in the early history of the Ryder Cup, captaining the USA in the first six competitions, partnered Gene Sarazen. Hagen and Sarazen, the first man to win all the major titles, played against US Open Champion Johnny Farrell and Bobby Jones, who co-founded the Masters Championship. The tournament proved to be a major success – raising the $10,000 needed to send the US team, which included Farrell and Sarazen to the Moortown Golf Club in Leeds and save the Ryder Cup.

Burgess’s role has largely been overlooked – but he was also one of the leading golf coaches in the world for many years and a true pioneer of the game when it was a fledgling sport in the USA.

Burgess – who was professional at Woodland Golf Club in Massachussetts – would teach stars like crooner Bing Crosby and entertainer Al Jolson and baseball legend Babe Ruth to play the game.

His first major success was as tutor to Francis Ouimet, America’s first golfing hero and the first amateur to win the US Open in 1913. “Whatever progress I have made in golf I owe directly to Charlie Burgess” Ouimet admitted.

Burgess lived in Massachusetts until his death in 1960, at the age of 86, leaving his role in the Ryder Cup as his proud – if not wholly recognised – legacy.

This article originally appeared on The.Express.co.uk

 

A Decade Departed
We Should All Be Grateful For The Brian Clough Way

by Roy Dalley.

Brian Clough ForestBrian Clough is still dividing opinion 10 years after taking his place in the Great Dug Out In The Sky. To many (this correspondent included) he was the greatest manager England never had. To others he was an arrogant alcoholic ass (and that’s just a few A-words…).

Certainly the evidence available online is conflicting and contradictory. His critics are still queuing up to condemn his uncompromising attitude towards Justin Fashanu, football’s first openly gay player, while others recall his penchant for greeting friends and acquaintances alike with a theatrical kiss on the cheek.

He told the Leeds United team he inherited from Don Revie to throw their medals in the bin because of their blatant foul play, then years later cuffed a fan for running onto the pitch during a match (a dispute that was later settled, obviously, with a kiss).

The bare facts, however, are indisputable. Indeed his managerial career was so wondrous his astonishing achievements as a centre-forward are often overlooked. Who knows how many goals Clough could have scored were it not for a serious cruciate ligament injury he sustained when he was just 26..? More than two years of rehabilitation proved fruitless and Clough had to settle for just the 251 League goals from 274 matches with Middlesbrough and Sunderland.

Hartlepool United called themselves Hartlepools United back in the days when they gave Clough his entry into management in 1965. It must have seemed like winning the pools for some, not least Clough himself, who immediately made perhaps the wisest decision of his career by appointing former Boro team-mate and goalkeeper Peter Taylor as his assistant.

It was a double act something akin to Good Cop-Bad Cop… or Hinge and Brackett, depending on your point of view. Certainly the pair generated drama, controversy, and pure comedy gold as they went about shaking the foundations of the English game.

They fell out with Hartlepools chairman Ernest Ord (though were re-instated after a boardroom coup resulted in Ord’s departure) while discovering a teenager named John McGovern.

They fell out with Derby chairman Sam Longson after guiding them from the old Second Division to the League Championship.

And they finally fell out with each other, but only after an ever greater transformation of Nottingham Forest, this time stretching the journey from Division Two to the League title and beyond, all the way to two triumphs in the European Cup.

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For context, try to imagine Steve McClaren winning the Premier League with Derby… or Stuart Pearce leading Forest to not one but two Champions League triumphs… and all within five years of their appointments!? These are the sort of time frames during which Clough and Taylor were writing their own Mission Impossible scripts in the East Midlands.

Taylor had an almost unrivalled eye for spotting potential, and a contacts book second to none. As the cliché goes he was the goods to Clough’s shop window.

The examples of Clough’s bluster and blarney are numerous, and will no doubt be wheeled out again by the football media over the weekend. The Guardian’s Daniel Taylor got in there first a few days back with his wonderful account, and I empathised while reading of his first encounter with Clough: “It would be a lie to say your heart is not racing. Your palms are sweaty… yet there is also that rare appreciation of being in the presence of authentic greatness.”

My feelings exactly when I first spoke to Clough some 30 years ago (and in my case, over the ‘phone, I was foregoing the added pressure of having to look him in the eye). The call was on behalf of the Daily Express and before answering any questions he put one to me: “Are you the cleaner?”

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Clough was a big fan of his ‘number 9’

Yet for all the chat it was Clough’s footballing philosophy that separated him from the pack and placed him, in his own words, in the “Top One” of English managers. Simplicity was the key, perfectly encapsulated in the playing style of his son Nigel, who was as technically adept as just about any other English footballer of the era. An assured first-touch with either foot, and the eye and ability for an early accurate pass to feet, Clough Junior was the antithesis of the long-ball game being served up elsewhere. Indeed were it not for a distinct lack of pace he would surely have won more than 14 England caps.

That’s 12 more appearances than the Old Man at international level, but it probably wasn’t a fact often repeated from son to father, who would no doubt have responded with a finger pointing reminder that Nigel had merely been fortunate to have had the better teacher.

In many ways Clough became a victim of his own success at Forest, who soon became little more than a feeder club for Manchester United. Garry Birtles, Peter Davenport, Neil Webb and Roy Keane all left for large transfer fees and higher wages at Old Trafford.

Clough found himself left with a young team, including Nigel, that stubbornly fought against the tide of idly punting the ball into a “position of maximum opportunity” as the FA’s antiquated coaching manual of the time preached.

I had the opportunity to watch the Old Master at close quarters during those final years, when he took Forest to Selhurst Park. It could have been a fixture against Crystal Palace, or even Wimbledon or Charlton (who both ground-shared at their South London neighbour in those austere days before the Premier League and Sky tv)… dunno!

The press box was situated just behind the visitors’ dug-out, and Clough’s presence on the touchline soon became the main point of interest. There he was in his white tennis shoes, dark blue trackie bottoms and green rugby jersey, white collar upturned.

But the stereotyping ends there. Clough wasn’t raging, nor berating the ref, nor even head-butting his opposite number. He stood still, arms folded, watching his young team pass their way around the pitch. His only movement consisted of gaining eye-contact with a player then lifting his right forefinger toward his eye (translation: Look!) or toward his forehead (translation: Think!)

No histrionics. No abuse. No drama.

I wish I could add it was a pleasure to attend his last match in charge, in 1993, but alas it was anything but. Forest lost to Sheffield United and their place at football’s top table was gone with their manager. His post-match press conference was memorable only for the sad, sorry figure who stood before us; his once sharp facial features now puffed and hideously reddened by alcohol abuse. He was thin and his patter was thinner. He was not yet 60 years old, yet in truth looked much older.

Clough died on September 20, 2004, aged 69, but the legend lives on via book, film, sculpture, silverware and, even, geography. The road that links Derby and Nottingham was called the A52 during his lifetime… now it’s known as Brian Clough Way.

It’s probably fair to say the travelling footy fans of the East Midlands wouldn’t want it any other way.

@RoyDalley

CloughLastGame

The Master Plan!
How Chelsea’s Transfer Policy Has Moved From Rude to Shrewd

by Dave Chidgey.

Now the Sky Sports hyped Transfer Window has firmly shut, Chelsea supporters can rest easy and light up the proverbial cigar safe in the knowledge that this summer the club has played a blinder!

Torres (1)

Torres has finally been moved on

In the last few seasons, probably going back to signing Torres for £50m and Luiz for £20m, Chelsea’s dealings in the transfer market had seemed somewhat surreal at best, flawed at worst, buying flashy players with no clear strategy or plan beyond a desire to play a cavalier version of tika-taka.

Those days appear to have been consigned firmly to the dustbin of history. Last year Jose Mourinho stated clearly that Chelsea were not in a position to win the title. We were a few players short, not least up front, and we had a few problem players in problem areas. On the one hand he called Chelsea a little horse, on the other we were a club in transition.

The summer of 2014 may well prove to be as big a landmark in terms of Chelsea’s future success, as the summer of 2003. Jose, together with Michael Emenalo one presumes, has implemented a master plan for the next ten years of football domination.

The obvious hole up front has been plugged with the signing of Diego Costa, but do not underestimate how important the re-signing of Didier Drogba on a free will be in the dressing room. The long term problem of Fernando Torres has also been solved with his loan to AC Milan, getting a very high earner off the books in the process. Hopefully the move will be of huge benefit to both Chelsea and the player. It was also impressive how quickly Chelsea got the talented Loic Remy in to complete the striking triumvirate, for a mere £10.5m it must be said.

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Remy: Smart business, quickly done.

In fact the departures from Chelsea are possibly more intriguing than the arrivals. Club legends Lampard and Cole have left, but any potential gaps left in the squad have been filled with the likes of Fabregas (who could prove to be the signing of the season) and Felipe Luis. Demba Ba, David Luiz, and Lukaku (for a staggering combined £82.7m) have been moved on, deemed not good enough for Mourinho’s Chelsea MkII. As a result of the ins and outs, Mourinho will be happy that he now has two high quality players for every position in that squad, a tried and tested strategy for the ‘shrewd one’.

Many commentators criticise Chelsea for the amount of players they have out on loan – 26 at the last count. However, I think in the light of this year’s transfer business, it can be seen as a very smart recruitment strategy and one that fits in well with the new reality of Financial Fair Play. Chelsea has worked hard to identify young talent, buying them relatively cheaply (Pasalic for £3m being a case in point). They are then loaned out so that Chelsea can monitor their development. If they prove good enough they get a chance to make the grade at Chelsea. If not, they are sold on, usually for a substantial profit. This profit is then re-invested in world class players when needed. Whilst some may see this as a sinister ‘hedge fund’ for youth development, the dividends for Chelsea are there for all to see.

The most intriguing aspect of Chelsea’s transfer window is the speed and efficiency with which they have concluded business, and to those who say our spending is the ruination of football, we have one of the lowest net spends in the Premier League this summer. That is positively Arsenal like!

Clearly Chelsea are adapting to the world of Financial Fair Play better than most.

David ‘Stamford Chidge’ Chidgey presents the award winning Chelsea FanCast TV show and podcast which can be seen every Monday at 19.00 on Chelsea FanCast TV or You Tube or heard at mixlr.com/chelsea-fancast/ or downloaded from ITunes. Follow him on twitter @StamfordChidge and @ChelseaFanCast

 

Dream On, United
£200m Spent Since Departure of Sir Alex, But Success Still A Long Way Off

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Luckily Di Maria has always wanted to play at centre-half apparently…

by Roy Dalley.

Insomnia might soon become the preferred option for many of those who have invested emotionally and financially in the Theatre of Dreams, Manchester.

It’s the place where one can buy a programme, a souvenir shirt, bedding, jewellery, DVD’s, cufflinks, toiletries and a wide variety of confectionaries before sitting down to watch a sprinkling of stars.

Forthcoming attractions include, at the greatest of expense, Argentine Angel Di Maria and England’s new captain Wayne Rooney, but look closer and you may notice the red velvet curtain is either threadbare or peppered by rather large holes. The footlights are dimmed now too many of the bulbs have either blown or been reduced to a flicker, and the stage seems too big for many of the supporting cast.

The dream now seems to focus only on the nightmares. Gone are vivid images of Best, Law and Charlton, Cantona, Beckham and Scholes, Busby and Ferguson, to be replaced by faceless blokes from backwaters like Swansea and Milton Keynes celebrating another waltz through United’s lines.

Di Maria’s arrival took the club’s expenditure to £200 million since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson little more than 15 months ago, yet it is doubtful the club will reach the standards set by their old Master of Ceremonies for a very long time.

Former defender Gary Neville reckons it could take two or three years to get back on top but others suspect it may be a good deal longer….

Cautionary tales abound. Some of us are ancient enough to remember the rise and fall of Leeds United, a sorry story that may yet plummet to even greater depths. Something similar, albeit swifter, befell Derby County and Nottingham Forest under the stewardship of Brian Clough. Many more will recall Ferguson famously toppling Liverpool from their perch nearly 25 years ago.

It already feels an awfully long time ago now that Ferguson walked onto the Old Trafford pitch to collect the club’s 20th league title while the stadium announcer bragged over the house p.a. about the trophy “returning to its rightful home.”

Many will argue Ferguson’s retirement was the catalyst for the club’s current fall from grace, yet the truth is United’s downward spiral began the moment the late Malcolm Glazer somehow managed to gain control of the club using little more than smoke and mirrors as collateral.

Di Maria's arrival impacts on rising star Januzaj

Di Maria’s arrival impacts on rising star Januzaj

Profits were diverted away from the club to pay off extraordinary levels of debt incurred by the Glazer takeover. Not even Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Real Madrid for £80 million allowed Ferguson to rejuvenate his ageing and ailing squad. He hid behind corporate jargon such as there being “little value in the transfer market” while Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and even Arsenal stole a march on their old foe.

It now seems like false economy at best and foolish pride at worst, to such an extent that Di Maria’s arrival as the most expensive signing in the history of British football smacks of desperation. He’s a decent left-footer, of course, but how much better is he than Adnan Januzaj, perhaps the brightest young outfield prospect at the club..?

Will Di Maria’s presence stunt the progress of the Belgian international, or will manager Louis van Gaal be forced into abandoning his 3-5-2 formation in order to accommodate both in a 4-3-3? And if so where does that leave Juan Mata, another of United’s expensive signings..?

In any event, surely the £60 million it cost to secure Di Maria would have been more wisely invested in top quality central midfielders and defenders?

We will find out over the coming months and years. It is sure to be compulsive viewing, whether it be high art, serious drama or simply a comedy of errors.

@RoyDalley

 

BOBBY’S Opening Day Belters!
Four Memorable Matches from Opening Days Past

We all love opening day weekend, here Karl Hofer looks at some past classics from the first weekend of top flight action.

The kick-off to the new season in the Premier League is almost upon us. Up and down the country fans will, for the most part, be entering this weekend with undue optimism and a bunch of utterly unrealistic dreams and aspirations.

And the opening day does tend to throw up the odd classic encounter and its share of strange results.

We had a rummage through the archives and picked out four of the most memorable. So now we present to you Bobby’s Opening Day Belters!

19/08/1995  Aston Villa 3-1 Manchester United

BeckhamvVillaWe all know this one, don’t we…? it’s the one when Villa ravaged United’s young starlets after Alex Ferguson had sold Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis in the summer, leading Alan Hansen to famously quip “you can’t win anything with kids” that night on Match of the Day.

Aside from the awful performance from United, the game was also notable for their piss-poor grey away kit – one that they would change at halftime later that season in a humping from Southampton at The Dell – and a tidy finish from the young boy Beckham as he rattled in a late consolation.

But let’s just address a couple of myths surrounding this match. There were a number of reasons United were slapped besides the oft-mentioned fact that they had seven players aged 21 or under in their squad that day. Missing through injury or suspension were a number of key players, including Cantona, Bruce, Cole, May and Giggs. And Villa were a decent side who went on to finish fourth. But what is rarely pointed out is the fact that Ferguson had one of his final flirtations with a 5-3-2 system, one that never worked for him.

The truth is the team that played this game would have won nothing for United that season. As the season developed they would usually play only three of their youngsters in a game; Butt, Beckham and a Neville. That they won the Double that year was largely down to Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona’s incredible efforts at the business-end of the season.

So Hansen was right. There, I said it.

29/08/1981  Swansea City 5-1 Leeds United

One of the greatest opening-day performances in English football history came from a Welsh team, when Swansea, taking their place in the top flight for the first time in their history, hosted the mighty Leeds.

Bob Latchford’s nine-minute debut hat-trick is an obvious highlight, but the finesse of Swansea’s fifth goal from Alan Curtis lives long in the memory.

This game was a pointer of what was to come later as Leeds would be relegated that season, but nobody had this down for a 5-1 home win beforehand. This was from the top drawer of opening-day shocks, no question. Highlights below.

15/08/1992  Arsenal 2-4 Norwich City

I’ll set the scene; Arsenal, many bookies’ favourites for the inaugural Premier League, entertained the Canaries who were being managed for the first time by Mike Walker.

Sutton beats Bould to the ball

Sutton beats Bould to the ball

The previous season the Gunners had finished top scorers in the league; in 1992-93, rather weirdly, they would be the lowest scorers. There was nothing to indicate that after an hour however, Arsenal led comfortably through goals from Steve Bould and Kevin Campbell.

Then Walker brought on his new signing, Mark Robins, and everything became a little surreal. Goals from Robins, David Phillips and Ruel Fox gave Norwich an improbable lead. Then Robins sealed the deal with a superb chip after a mistake from Tony Adams, who at the time was being barracked with donkey chants from opposing fans every weekend.

The North Bank looked on motionless and in silence. OK, it was a mural which had been brought in to improve the Highbury atmosphere, but you get my point.

Norwich, despite having to suffer that awful speckled shirt each week, went on to their highest-ever finish of third position. Dwell on that for a second if you will…

Arsenal clearly learned a lot from this opening day disaster; the following year they kicked off their campaign with a 0-3 reverse at the hands of Coventry City and a hat-trick from Micky Quinn having the game of his life.

19/08/1989  Manchester United 4-1 Arsenal

At the risk of draining all remaining hopes and dreams out of Arsenal fans ahead of their season opener against Palace, we’re going to give this one a mention as well…

neil-webbpIt was essentially the perfect opening day for the title-starved Reds fans. It all began with businessman Michael Knighton, who had just agreed to buy Manchester United for – wait for it – £10m, showing he was a genuine fan by kitting up, ball-juggling and then smashing one home in front of the Stretford End.

Then United trounced the champions Arsenal 4-1.

During the game new signing Neil Webb topped off a splendid debut with a stunning, swirling volley. The long wait for the title was seemingly soon to end, it was all so intoxicating. It wasn’t the start of a new season; it was the start of a new era.

Or not. The cash-strapped Knighton was soon exposed as a chancer. Webb’s career was ruined when he ruptured his Achilles on England duty only 18 days later. And United were embroiled in a relegation battle for most of the season.

So our advice is to not get too carried away with opening day results as they are often not much of a guide for what is to come. Or sometimes they are. It depends really. I don’t know, you decide….

 

They Say Never Go Back!
Will Drogba buck the trend or follow in Osgood’s footsteps..?

DrogbaReturn

Return of the King (II)

by Roy Dalley.

History was the buzzword that accompanied Didier Drogba on his return to Chelsea, and it had little to do with the distressed denims and flatcap he wore while putting pen to paper on a new one-year contract with the club.

Certainly the Ivorian centre-forward has become a dab hand at signing his name into football’s history books. No less than 10 major titles during his first eight year spell at Chelsea is ample proof of that.

Manager Jose Mourinho dropped the H word a couple of times when welcoming Drogba back to the club, stressing: “He’s not protected by history or what he’s done for the club previously. He is coming with the mentality to make more history.”

Yet in another sense Chelsea fans of a certain vintage will be hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.

retro_chelsea

Osgood returned to The Bridge in ’79 but couldn’t save the Blues from relegation

It is said one should never go back in love and in football; think Thierry Henry and Arsenal. Or Paul Scholes and Manchester United. Their returns only served to wipe away more than a little sheen from their glittering reputations.

Step back a few years and Chelsea fans will recall another comeback that hardly lived up to their hopes or expectations…

Peter Osgood was the original King of Stamford Bridge; quite an accolade when your rivals for the crown included Alan Hudson, Charlie Cooke, Bobby Tambling and Peter Bonetti.

And with good reason. During his first spell at the club Osgood scored 148 goals in 370 appearances, including strikes against (the then mighty) Leeds to help win the FA Cup and (the perennially mighty) Real Madrid to land the European Cup Winners Cup.

He also scored in the League Cup Final, though it wasn’t enough to prevent Stoke from winning what remains their only piece of silverware.

But goalscoring was only a part of what made Osgood great. Tall, lithe, two-footed and graceful in the era of muddy pitches and ruddy centre-halves, he played the game with a smile and even a wink for the ladies. Indeed his magnetism prompted Hollywood film star Raquel Welch to wear a T-shirt bearing his name after they were introduced on a matchday at Stamford Bridge.

Welch: without question the finest legs ever seen in Chelsea shorts

Welch: without question the finest legs ever seen in Chelsea shorts

The slogan said, rather succinctly: I scored with Osgood.

It was probably inevitable he would go west to America in the autumn of his career following spells at Southampton and Norwich after a highly publicised fall-out with former Chelsea boss Dave Sexton.

But the swagger had been reduced to a stagger when Osgood returned to Stamford Bridge from Philadelphia Fury in 1979. He was 32, four years younger than Drogba is now, and plainly unable to conjour any more magic, scoring just twice in 9 matches as Chelsea were relegated from the top flight.

Indeed just about the only significant aspect of Osgood’s return to Chelsea were the rather strange playing boots he brought back with him from the States. They didn’t have three stripes or a flash, rather a strange looking tick.

Yes, Osgood was the footballer who introduced Nike boots to the English game.

It remains to be seen which pair of Nikes Drogba will model when the new season kicks off, yet he will be hoping, and Mourinho will be demanding, he leaves rather more impressive footprints on his Second Coming.

Unlike Osgood, however, Drogba’s return has nothing to do with trying to reverse a sharp decline within the club. Indeed much of his most significant work will probably be conducted behind the scenes at the club’s Cobham training complex, where he be expected to fill the inspirational void vacated by Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole.

He’s the player who has seen, done and won it all in a Chelsea shirt, and Mourinho will want his stardust to rub off onto his younger players. He’ll probably want a few goals too, though wisened Stamford Bridge supporters know it’ll never quite be the same.

The King is Dead (and, in Osgood’s case, his ashes are buried beneath the penalty spot at the Shed End), Long Live The King. Well, for one more season at least…

*********

We Two Kings

Osgood   –  Chelsea games 380, Goals 150, Winners medals 2, Statues at Stamford Bridge 1

Drogba   –  Chelsea games 341*, Goals 157*, Winners medals 10*, Statues at Stamford Bridge 0*

*Subject to change

 

@RoyDalley

Should Stevie Stay or Should He Go..? Roy Dalley on why the decision shouldn’t be his to make…

Steven-Gerrard-England--009

Gerrard; lumped-on a tad…?

by Roy Dalley.

Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool, England and Mars midfielder, has rather a lot on his plate, don’t you think..?

Never mind all those lucrative commercial contracts he fulfils away from the football field, including flogging confectionary to the country’s youth, Gerrard will lead his club back into the Champions League next season.

That’s not all. He’s currently deciding whether or not to give his country one last chance to add some silverware to his collection, despite the fact he’ll be 36 by the time England compete for the 2016 European Championship. All being well…

It is a big decision.

So big, in fact, many are wondering whether he is the right man to make such a call, particularly when the England manager is, in fact, somebody else.

One man who has witnessed each of Gerrard’s 114 international appearances from pitchside is Henry Winter, while providing match reports for the Daily Telegraph.

After watching Gerrard struggle to reach the required standards at the World Cup, Winter sat down and estimated the number of decent performances he could recall.

Would you care to guess the total Winter arrived at..? Go on… !?

Thirty would be a modest total, wouldn’t you say..? That’s a very rough average of one good game in four in an England shirt, a level of inconsistency that would lead to a spell on the sub’s bench in almost every other team in the world.

In fact Winter suggested he has seen Gerrard play well in a sum total of eight international matches. Eight! And one of those was against the mighty Andorra. Well played Stevie…

GerrardUru

Gerrard’s good performances for his country have been few and far between

If you think I’m having a pop at Gerrard here you’d probably be right.

Granted, one cannot blame him for continually turning up for his country whenever he gets the call. But equally one can’t help suspect he is now a round peg in a square hole… a once marauding Roy of the Rovers type footballer whose legs are no longer up to the task, resulting in a compromise job sitting in front of the back four.

Even in that more restricted yet highly specialised role he was a long way short of being properly match-fit for last month’s engagement in Brazil.

As skipper and one of the squad’s leading penalty takers, he should have been ready and able to run, turn and jump for anything up to two hours if necessary… and then have enough strength in legs, heart and mind to make the long walk from the halfway line and score from the spot in a shoot-out.

No such luck of course. Instead Gerrard barely rose six inches off the ground when he headed the ball into the path of Luis Saurez to score the goal that resulted in England’s defeat by Uruguay.

One crucial mistake, such as his slip against Chelsea that perhaps cost him his last chance of winning a Premier League title, could be deemed unfortunate. Two bad mistakes suggests carelessness.

GerrardSlip

Gerrard’s oh-so-costly slip…

Certainly he looked a little overweight to me, despite training and acclimatisation in Portugal and Miami before England’s arrival in Rio. The designer stubble under his chin couldn’t disguise his lack of conditioning.

A cynic might suggest he entered into the spirit of things a little too hungrily in his part-time role as a Mars bar salesman, on behalf of the Football Association.

Perhaps. One thing is clear: He has to quit something…

@RoyDalley