Kick Off

Rob’s World Cup Wire
News, Tips & Titbits from Brazil 2014

by Rob Shepherd.

England 2022..?!?

So the World Cup has kicked off.

BlatterEye

Is Blatter eyeing up a new job..?

It is to be hoped that despite the revelations of FIFA corruption and worries about security, safety and anti-state angst in Brazil it all goes swimmingly as in Jogo Bonito (beautiful game).

But it can be revealed that even though FIFA president Sepp Blatter has been endorsed by his cronies to stay on as president for another term, UEFA boss Michel Platini WILL run against him in the autumn.

Part of the ticket will be to strip Qatar of the 2022 finals and cleanse FIFA of brown paper envelope ethos.

The FA (England) want to take over those finals. And despite denials have a strong chance not least because of cost. FA chairman Greg Dyke now sees that as his rasion d’ etre.

But it understood that Australia would be the politically pragmatic choice.

I understand China and India will also make new bids, if – and it will happen – there is a new vote for the 2022 finals.

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Silly to Ignore Chile

Group B kicks of tonight ad the perceived wisdom is that Spain and Holland will prevail.

But Chile are potential dark horses. Not just for the group but to make it to the latter stages even the semi finals.

Their Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli promotes a high tempo, pressing, passing game that sees his team evolve from 3-3-1-3 to 4-3-3 at the flicker of an eye.

Chile, who should give Australia a bloody nose tonight, are a team to watch if they don’t suffer stage fright like Columbia in 1994.

They can certainly shake up this group, and in Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez they have a top class player.

New Manchester United boss Louis Van Gaal could well face humiliation if he doesn’t take the Dutch to the knockout phase.

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Uphill for Cahill..?

Looking forward to seeing Tim Cahill (remember him..?) in action for the SoccerRoos tonight.

I reckon the ex-Millwall and Everton star, now with New York Red Bulls, could make an impact even if the Aussies eventually are overcome by chirpy Chilies.

These are Tim’s Twitter thoughts (if that is not an oxymoron)

 

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Couple of Comebacks

Carlos Vela has not made Mexico’s World Cup squad. Which is probably just as well for Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.

Wenger insists he doesn’t like buying players on the evidence of international tournaments, even at a World Cup.

So it would seem reports that Vela could return to the Gunners for £3.5 million from Real Sociedad are on the money…

Reports that Roger Milla, now perhaps aged 65 and a half, at least, will make a comeback this summer after his exploits at Italia ’90 have been grossly exaggerated.

However don’t dismiss the notion that the spring chicken that is Samuel Eto’o of the Chelsea parish might still make an impact this summer for the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.

And if Eto’o does notch even once – maybe against Mexico tonight – then he must, please, pay homage to the Ledge that is Roger Milla and dance by the corner flag. Play it again Sam;

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Beat the Bookie:

Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku is 33-1 to be the World Cup’s top goal scorer

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Cuánto…?!?

Spain kick off their World Cup defence tonight against Holland, the country they defeated in 2012 final, with the second most valuable squad in terms of player values.

According to Lloyds of London the Roja stars, with £50 million Fernando Torres back at the sharp end, are worth £590.1 million.

England’s insurance value of their squad is the third highest at £550m while Group D rivals Costa Rica have the lowest value at £18.3 million.

The total value of all 32 team is a staggering £6.2 billion

Here is a list of the team values: Germany £641.2m, Spain £590.1m, England 550.1m, Brazil £448.3m, France £394.8m, Belgium £360.4m, Argentina £355.3m, Netherlands £279.4m, Portugal £279.3m, Italy £196.8m, Cameroon £195.8m, Croatia £185.6m, Russia £165.8m, Ghana £158.5m, Uruguay £144.1m, Nigeria £143.1m, Switzerland £138.5m, Ivory Coast £132m, USA £110.7m, Japan £92.8m, Bosnia-Herzegovina £84.3m, Mexico £72.5m, Chile £72m, Australia £66.6m, South Korea £65.2m, Colombia £59.5m, Greece £53.2m, Algeria £49.4m, Ecuador £48.9m, Honduras £34.2m, Iran £24.4m, Costa Rica £18.3m.

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World Cup Moment

Let’s not forget in the Seventies the English used to support Scotland at the World Cup finals.

Well some of us anyway…

And was there ever a finer moment than Archie Gemmill scoring THAT goal against Holland which was since immortalised in the iconic movie Trainspotting.

Here’s Gemmill talking us through the goal, with additional input from Pat Nevin and, er, a dancer. Lets see if we can pull the correct video from the vaults…

@robshepherd5

 

Cafu The Inspiration for Johnson
PLUS: England Full-Back Warns “Suarez Not The Only Threat!”

Cafu won 125 caps for Brazil

Cafu won 125 caps for Brazil

by Rob Shepherd.

Glen Johnson grew up wanting to be like Brazil World Cup legend Cafu.

Now the England star will get the chance to do just that when he goes to his hero’s homeland in search of World Cup glory.

Johnson is expected to be one of the first names on Roy Hodgson’s team-sheet when the Three Lions open their Group D campaign against Italy in the Amazonian city of Manaus on June 14.

The Liverpool defender has cemented his place as Hodgson’s first choice right-back following an impressive season in the Premier League. Now he has revealed his attacking game is modelled on Cafu and he is hoping Hodgson gives him the freedom to do his best impression of the man who won a staggering 145 caps and captained Brazil to World Cup triumph in 2002.

Johnson said: “They’ve had many attacking full-backs over the years in Brazil so I’m sure the fans would appreciate seeing other full-backs do similar stuff.

“You love to watch all the attacking players but Cafu, obviously, who played in the same position, was probably best right-back there has ever been.

“It was great to see players like that. It was just the way he carried himself, he was brilliant going forward, good on the ball and could defend very well.

“He had a bit of swagger and played in plenty of World Cups.

“It’s always been a big part of my game, to attack when I can, get forward and support the lads. I like to try and cause a few problems for the other side. I’ve always liked to get forward and hopefully that will continue in Brazil.”

“They are going to have good players and Luis won’t be the only one to worry about”

Get Forward

Johnson didn’t get much chance to express himself under Fabio Capello at the last World Cup in 2010 – but is hoping things will be different this time round.

Johnson, who has won 50 caps, said: “The coaches encourage you to get forward but obviously how and when is your decision because you’re playing the game.

“But sometimes when you end up on the other side of the field it’s because certain things have unfolded and you’ve seen more room and are trying to exploit that.

“Obviously the coaches wouldn’t be encouraging me to run across to the left wing too often, but once you cross that white line you’ve got to play that game and try and put into practice what you’ve been doing in training.

“I’ll probably get a bit more freedom, because Roy definitely encourages full-backs to get forward and join in.

“We’ve got to be as dangerous as we possibly can when we have the ball.”

Challenge

GlenJohnson50thCap

Johnson won his 50th cap against Denmark

Despite being keen to showcase his attacking skills on the biggest stage of all, Johnson knows a major part of the challenge will also be to stop club team-mate Luis Suarez when England clash with Uruguay in Sao Paulo in the second group game on June 19.

Suarez is expected to be fit despite having knee surgery last week and Johnson knows better than most how dangerous the striker can be.

But he has warned the Three Lions not to become obsessed with Suarez and look at the bigger picture.

Johnson added: “I’ve not seen the papers for a while so I don’t know what people think the injury is, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s too bad. He thinks he’ll be fit.

“I certainly don’t want him to be injured. You don’t ever want to see your mates or team-mates injured.

“He’s one of the best strikers I’ve ever played with and I’ve played with a few good ones.

“He’s the sort of player who can create things out of nothing and causes everybody problems. You’ve seen it just as much as I have – he’s clearly not one of the players you want to play against in the World Cup.

“He’s just the same in training as in the games. He always wants to win and gets the hump if he doesn’t.

“But we’ve got some fantastic players ourselves who will cause them problems.”

 

Hammers Fans Still Pining for ‘The West Ham Way’
But What Is That Exactly…?

by Rob Shepherd.

Sam Allardyce has lost the support of a big chunk of West Ham fans not just because of the dour, predictable, one-dimensional style of play he promotes but because of an ugly attitude.

Having done what he was brought into to do – get the club promoted back to the Premier League then stay there in the first season – there was a general acceptance that the ‘Bolton Way’ would do.

But the hope the team would kick on and play with a bit more style and verve has not materialised. The recent win over of Tottenham, to ensure safety, was very much the exception to the rule.

West Ham beat Tottenham 2-0 at Upton Park in their final home game of the season, putting an end to a run of four defeats on the bounce.

West Ham beat Tottenham 2-0 at Upton Park in their final home game of the season, putting an end to a run of four defeats on the bounce.

The season has been a long grim struggle and many of those who were prepared to see Allardyce’s way of thinking have turned against him because he has virtually laughed in their face and mocked their notion of the ‘West Ham way’. And 40 points with a game to go is hardly something to crow about.

Nor is the Allardyce approach the best way to woo new fans to the club when they move into the Olympic Stadium the season after next.

Now, in one sense Allardyce has a point, because there are some myths about the ‘West Ham way’ and the club’s status as the ‘Academy of Football’.

After all, it’s a long time since the Hammers have actually played anything approaching the ‘West Ham way’.

There was a spell under Harry Redknapp when the club did play some silky, thrilling football in the tradition of the teams he was brought up playing for in the Sixties and Seventies, but Redknapp left Upton Park 13 years ago.

RonGreenwood

Ron Greenwood was the gaffer at Upton Park from 1961 to 1974.

Since then West Ham have hardly played with the philosophy Ron Greenwood brought the club at the start of the Sixties and John Lyall carried on through in the Seventies and Eighties.

In those days, even when the team struggled in the league, which was often, they did put smiles on their fans’ faces with a brand of football that was also often appreciated by the opposing supporters – although that was often because of West Ham’s soft centre, which ensured they often lost.

That is a point that Sam likes to make.

But with cultured stars like Bobby Moore, Trevor Brooking and Alan Devonshire, the Hammers did play with a special brand of football that made their fans proud that their smallish club had something special that some of the bigger teams did not. Soul.

So what is the ‘West Ham way’ meant to be ?

In an nutshell at its best it was a brand of football developed from the Hungarian model of the Fifties, quick movement and passing, with intelligent use of space, variety of movement, pace and final ball.

If there was one thing that showed West Ham at their best it was innovation of the near post cross.

This is best illustrated in this footage of Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst combing to score two goals, each setting up the other, in a 2-0 win over Manchester City in 1967. Greenwood then explains it in coaching terms.

Now, of course, the usual delivery into the box is just a high ball floating into Andy Carroll. It can cause damage but has become so predictable opponents know what is coming.

That Allardyce slavishly sticks to the same old routine and rigid formation is, combined with his miserable rhetoric, what has really turned so many fans against him because the most important part of the ‘West Ham way’ is, win or lose, to at least play the game with a smile on your face.

There were smiles aplenty as a league double was completed over Spurs but in almost smirking Sam didn’t help his cause to win over those who want their West Ham back.

@robshepherd5

Scotland Says Goodbye To Sandy
Rangers Legend Loses Battle with Cancer Aged 65

sandyjardine_1823793aby Rob Shepherd.

Sir Alex Ferguson has led tributes to Rangers and Scotland footballer Sandy Jardine, who has died at the age of 65.

The European Cup Winners’ Cup-winning full-back was among the Ibrox side’s most decorated servants and played 38 times for his country.

Jardine – who was also named Scotland’s player of the year at the age of 38 during a stint as joint manager of Hearts – was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago. He is survived by his wife Shona, children Steven and Nicola as well as several grandchildren.

Sir Alex, a former Rangers team-mate, said: “From Cathy and I, this is some of the worst news we have heard.

“Sandy was a noble and courageous man. The respect he is held in at Rangers is immense.

“He was one of the greatest players ever to wear the jersey. To Shona and family, we express our sympathy and sadness.”

Jardine played more than 600 times for Rangers, winning three league championships, five Scottish Cups and five League Cups. But the finest moment of his career was undoubtedly Rangers’ 1972 Cup Winners’ Cup final victory over Dynamo Moscow in Barcelona.

Jardine made his Scotland debut against Denmark in 1970 and played in all three group matches during the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany, where he and Celtic’s Danny McGrain were voted the competition’s best full-backs.

He also featured in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina and captained Scotland on nine occasions.

Rangers boss Ally McCoist said: “There have been many great names associated with Rangers Football Club in our 142-year history and Sandy is a Rangers legend in every sense of the word.

“We are all devastated with the news he has passed away. We have lost a great man today.

“I had the privilege of watching Sandy playing for Rangers when I was a young boy, I had enjoyed the pleasure of working with him closely since I returned to the club in 2007 and he was a truly remarkable human being.

“He was respected not only by Rangers fans but also the wider football community and he is a huge loss to the game. We will never see his like again in the modern era.”

Sandy Jardine 1948 - 2014

Sandy Jardine
1948 – 2014

Team of the Season: 30 Years On
PLUS who makes Rob Shepherd’s team for 2013/14..?

by Rob Shepherd.

0033__7585__suarez263_5239c079b2575366420948Most players will have cast their votes by now for the PFA player of the year and teams of the year. For me Liverpool’s Luis Suarez has to be a shoo-in for the top award to be announced later this month.

More up for debate is the team award in the 30th year when a best XI was announced.

This is the first ever PFA team of the year for the 1973-74 season;

Pat Jennings (Arsenal) Paul Madeley (Leeds) Roy McFarland (Derby) Norman Hunter (Leeds) Colin Todd (Derby): Billy Bremner (Leeds) Tony Currie (Sheffiled Utd) Johnny Giles (Leeds): Mick Channon (Southampton) Malcolm McDonald (Newcastle) Allan Clarke (Leeds)

Here is my selection for this season;

David Marshall : Statistics say the Scottish International has stopped the most shots in the PL so far this season. A cynic would say it helps on that front when you’re team has been battling relegation for most of the season. But often a keeper’s confidence and form gets shot when he’s in a struggling team and has to be taken out of the firing line. Or he has played his part in the club’s problems and get axed .Not so with the Cardiff keeper who has produced a string of stunning saves and consistent displays.

Glenn Johnson : There are several reasons why Liverpool have been transformed from also ran’s into title contender this season. Johnson is one of them. Defensively the England right he has shown the maturity to help shore up a suspect back four not least his ability to play at left back too. His attacking sorties have been a crucial factor in Liverpool’s rise. Everton’s Seamus Coleman and Man City’s Pablo Zabaleta have been very good too but Johnson gets the nod.

John Terry : The mere fact that Jose Mourinho admits he was wrong to think was over the hill and would only be a bit part player this season says a lot. Time and again Terry, despite creaking limbs, has been the rock of Chelsea’s defence to a point that many have argued for his recall to the England squad for the World Cup. That was never going to happen but on the basis of his big game prowess he gets my vote over Arsenal’s Pers Metersaker who has fallen short in high profile matches.

Vincent Kompany : His influence on City’s is immense. He leads by example not just with his football but his character and attitude. The simple fact is when he was injured for a period City looked suspect at the back. With him in the team they look far more solid. The ultimate pro’s pro… a centre-half who is tough as nails but can play a bit too.

Leighton Baines : This one is really too close to call. Southampton’s Luke Shaw has been tremendous this season but given Baines’s consistent contribution to Everton’s top four challenge and the fact that he has emerged as England first choice left back gets him the vote. The way Baines responded so positively after a move to Man Utd was blocked last summeremphasises his strong character.

Eden Hazard : When he first arrived at Chelsea his talent was obvious but his physical strength and concentration were lacking. He has come of age under Mourinho this season, his superb touch and vision being underpinned by work rate. Mourinho has said he is the best young talent in the world. The big question now is : Can Chelsea keep him ?

Steven Gerrard : When Liverpool maintained a winning streak when he was injured mid season there were some who suggest the Reds’s title chances would be improved if he didn’t get back into the team. What nonsense. Since returning Gerrard’s experience and leadership has been a major factor in making sure Liverpool did not blow up. He has revelled in a deeper quarter back like role. That said had Aaron Ramsey stayed fit he would have pushed Stevie G for a place in this all star side.

Yaya Toure : There have been some games this season when Toure has been unplayable. Has there even been a midfield marauder of such physical power who also has such nimble happy feet? Old fans may think back to Duncan Edwards, Dave Mackay or Bryan Robson.He is a wing half and inside forward rolled into one…one minute he has broken up play the next he is scoring goals for fun.

Adam Lallana : There was a suspicion that his outstanding early season form then call up the England squad might affect him. Or that he could lack the mental strength to produce under pressure or cope with the pressure of the spot light. His response has been hugely impressive. A major part of Southampton’s excellent season and deserves World Cup berth.

Luis Suarez : Who would have thought this time last year that Suarez would still be at Liverpool and people would be saying what a joy he is to watch ? His transformation from a talented but tainted striker to a world class laughing cavalier who scores and makes goals with sauve style is a tribute to the Uruguayan coming to terms with his own faults and conquering them

Daniel Sturridge : His partnership with Suarez this season has proved that fielding two strikers is not a thing of the past. At last given his head to plays through the middle…denied to him by previous club Chelsea …has brought the best out of this clever, unorthodox striker, who Latin American style of play has dovetailed with Suarez and who can give England an extra dimension on Brazil. Gets in just ahead of Sergio Ageuro

BRodgers

Rodgers gets the thumbs up for his work at Anfield

Player of the season;
1. Suarez
2. Toure
3. Terry

Manager of the season;

Brendan Rodgers :
Regardless of which team wins the title Rodgers is the top manager having turned Liverpool into title contenders. He has shown the ability to learn from his mistakes, be tactically flexible and in the handling of the Suarez situation last summer strong man management. Roberto Martinez at Everton deserves to mentioned in dispatches.

Young Player of the Year :
Raheem Sterling gets the vote just ahead of Shaw on the basis of how much he has improved. Sterling lost his way on and off the pitch last season. But the 19 year old has matured immensely this season. He can play on either wing, but not only has ability to cross with purpose but move inside and make decisive passes or get in behind defenders and score. Deserves to go to World Cup.

 

The Technical Area: A Modern Day Theatre for Managers to Strut Their Stuff

by Rob Shepherd.

SOCCER Newcastle 135156 Football Newcastle United v Sunderland - Premier League.

Pardew has a history of touchline histrionics

Even if Alan Pardew’s face off with Hull’s David Meyler was a more head putt than a head butt, the FA appointed independent commission had no option to slap the Newcastle manager in the face with a record seven game ban.

Sensibly Pardew accepted his punishment of being barred from the stadium for three games and four from the touchline.

He has even suggested he may consider extending his exile from the dug out and the so-called technical area for much longer. Let’s hope Pardew sets a trend.

The sight of managers prancing around the technical area ranting and raving at referees or shouting instructions and gesticulating at players is becoming tiresome and often embarrassing.

It’s as if managers now feel they have to put on a sideshow to prove a point to the fans and their bosses up in the directors box of how clever or how good they are and how much they care. The technical area, which was brought in for sound reasons, has been turned into a stage where managers melodramatically strut their stuff.

TV plays its part, constantly zooming in and aware of this many managers play to the cameras as well as the crowd. Some even seem to be afflicted by a form of Tourette’s syndrome during the course of the game.

It gets ever more embarrassing.

Clough and Taylor work their magic calmly from their seats

Clough and Taylor work their magic calmly from their seats

After all, if a manager feels the need to bark constant instructions to his players from the off it raises the obvious question: What on earth has he been doing on the training ground all week and why didn’t he get his point across in the pre-match meeting and team talk?

The great managers like Sir Alf Ramsey, Bill Shankley, Don Revie and Brian Clough would sit still and silent for most of the game knowing that once the players had crossed the white line then there was little they could really do to change the course of things.

The preparation was done and dusted and any major changes to a game plan would have to wait until half-time.

Yes, they would stand up and shout something if they could effect a tactical tweak during play but in essence they knew that once the game had started most words shouted from the sidelines would fall on deaf ears.

Back then there was only one substitute so there was an obvious limit to how much a manager could change. But in that sense managers now have greater ability to alter the course of the game – but they can do that sitting down with a sense of calm and purpose, not like they are about to explode.

Jose is the master of touchline theatre

Jose is the master of touchline theatre

Besides, now as then, in the heat of battle it’s hard for players to take on too many new instructions; indeed information overload can have a negative impact on concentration and confidence.

The most telling time to change the course of a match tactically is still at half time. Deep down Jose Mourinho knows that, and he is a master at making decisive substitutions or tactical changes, especially at the interval.

But he can’t resist playing to the gallery either.

Recently he spoke of modern players looking in the mirror before they leave the dressing room… not for introspection but to check the hair do and so on. Yet many managers must do the same. A slick designer suit, the latest tie knot and cool overcoat, is de rigeour for more and more who sometimes give the technical area the look of a catwalk.

Some, like Roberto Mancini go the extra mile in search of cutting the right image for the cameras – and thus potential sponsors – by adorning a trendy retro scarf as fashion statement.

Looking back it was probably Kenny Dalglish who started it all, in the cross over period when still as player/manager of Liverpool he began to start more game games on the bench. But instead of sitting down like Shanks, Bob Paisley or Joe Fagan before him, Dalglish began the trend of the manager standing up to get a better view of the game.

Kenny Dalglish as then Liverpool manager in 1991-833869

Dalglish: Stood to get a better view of the game

More and more head coaches followed suit and now we have the era of the peacock managers who prance and prattle on the touchline.

But it was only a matter of time before one of them went beyond spitting feathers as did Pardew did.

As a consequence it is to be hoped other managers take note and take a step back from what has become an egotistic sideshow.

It would indeed be great if the technical area was scrapped.

I doubt that will happen, but you never know. Pardew might actually find that sitting up in the stands will give him a far better overview of the game and given how easy it is now to communicate with the coaches down on the bench enable him to make better judgements. And thus make him a better boss and maybe then starting a new trend of managers taking a back seat where they can use their heads, rather than lose their heads.

 

A World Cup Squad Needs Attacking Options Not Defensive Cover! History proves it’s true…

by Rob Shepherd.

On the day Sven Goran Eriksson named his squad for the 2002 World Cup final squad, I bumped into his assistant Tord Grip at Marble Arch and we shared a cab for the short hop to the hotel where the 23 names would be revealed.

En route, Grip told me Eriksson had decided to include Martin Keown as extra cover in defence rather than gamble on the exciting wildcard option of Blackburn forward Matt Jansen.

Although Jansen was uncapped he was in the sort of form we have been seeing from Raheem Sterling recently, who as a consequence looks to have secured a late ticket. Jansen had even been measured for his suit.

_1704807_jansen_300

Jansen was in fine form for Rovers back in 2002

However, they wanted the insurance of an extra defender.

But it didn’t make sense for a tournament England needed to go on front foot and win, given they had the tools to do just that.
As well as Jansen, Frank Lampard was also overlooked.

Given that Eriksson has cautiously only selected four forwards, the England squad needed more attacking bodies in midfield not a stalwart defender. After all, you’re not picking a squad for a 60-game season. It’s seven games if you go all the way the World Cup final – that’s cup football.

England could have done with more attacking options when trailing 2-1 to 10-man Brazil in the quarter-finals but the ageing Teddy Sheringham and Darius Vassell failed to offer the requisite spark when they came off the bench.

I’m not saying Jansen – who that summer suffered a motor bike accident that ruined his career – would have turned the tide. Or Lampard. But either could have done.

It just seems a waste of resources to overload a squad with defenders, when as history shows, defences tend not to change that much over such a short space of time at a tournament.

Raheem+Sterling+England+U21+v+Finland+U21+yKYHOYWbmfll

Sterling is in fine form

So it seems perfectly sensible for Roy Hodgson to load his squad with the ‘crackerjack’ wingers that have emerged over the last year.

And I would go further: Hodgson should now abandon 4-3-3 and really go for it with a full out 4-2-4 formation rather than a cautious 4-4-2. Don’t clip the wingers’ wings, let them fly!

And I would also take both Jermain Defoe and Andy Carroll, providing he gets some games and goals under his belt for the rest of the season.

So what if Defoe is playing the next couple of months for Toronto?

Physically and mentally it could mean he will actually turn up sharper.

Both Defoe and Carroll offer obvious alternatives to Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney.

Here is the squad I think Hodgson should select;

Goalkeepers: Hart, Foster, Ruddy.
Defenders: Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Jones, Smalling, Baines, Shaw.
Midfielders: Lallana, Townsend, Gerrard, Lampard, Milner, Henderson, Barkley, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sterling.
Forwards: Rooney, Sturridge, Carroll, Defoe.

My starting line up (4-2-3-1): Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rooney, Sterling; Sturridge.

 

England to Move to a Mersey Beat..? It Wouldn’t be the First Time…

by Rob Shepherd.

Roy Hodgson’s World Cup campaign in the land of the Samba beat could see the heartbeat of England dominated by a Mersey Beat.

steven-gerrard-raheem-sterling-aly-cissokho-and-daniel-sturridge

Liverpool are flying with an English core

It is entirely possible, preferable perhaps, that come the summer England’s first choice team could involve FIVE Liverpool players – skipper Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge.

How ironic that would be, given how quickly Hodgson was ushered out of the Anfield door.

But the form of all five in a Liverpool side who have moved on leaps and bounds since Brendan Rodgers took over from Kenny Dalglish, who ousted Hodgson from the hot seat 38 months ago, means they could all start in the friendly against Denmark this week. And who knows, the understanding they have forged over recent months could suddenly offer England a new dynamic and dimension.

Core

One of the problems of international football is welding together a disparate group of players in terms of tactics, team spirit and understanding in a short space of time. Logic suggests that if the core of a team comes from the same club then that can overcome the problem.

Moreover at the moment all five of the Liverpool players in this England squad are on form the best players in their positions too.
Certainly there is no more prolific a striker than Sturridge.

Sterling, after being called up by country too early, is now the best and most versatile winger in the England squad. His form of late has been stunning.

Gerrard and Henderson – England’s most improved player – are on fire and vitally know, almost instinctively, how to play in tandem at the heart of the midfield.

While Johnson is still by some distance England best and most reliable right back – and knows how to service Gerrard, Henderson and Sterling – who in turn know how to feed the right back when he’s on the rampage.

Evidence

But the logic of club connections doesn’t always work.

In 1977 Ron Greenwood started with five Liverpool players but England still stumbled to a draw with Switzerland.

But setting aside recent occasions when England ended the game with seven Manchester United players then five of Manchester City’s when substitutes came into the equation there is compelling evidence that it can.

EngLiv77small

England’s Liverpool influence of 1977 hang out, but can you name them all? (answers at the foot of the page)

Way back in 1934 England fielded SEVEN Arsenal players and beat world champions Italy 3-2 in a game played in London N5 to boot and was thus dubbed the Battle of Highbury.

And when England beat Germany 5-1 in 2001, four Liverpool players started and all the goals were scored by Reds – Gerrard, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey. Nick Barmby also started and the fifth Beatle, Jamie Carragher, came off the bench, which was the last time five Liverpool players played for England at once, which is perhaps an omen.

Then of course in 1966 the core of England’s World Cup-winning team – Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters – came from West Ham.

The great Dutch side of the Seventies was dominated by Ajax. While the spine of the West Germany side during the same period came from Bayern Munich.

Most recently Spain has risen from also rans to become World beaters since its DNA became dominated by Barcelona players.

Club Classics? It’s surely worth Hodgson giving the Mersey Beat a whirl. It would be, erm, a Kop out not to.

 

Photo Answers: Ian Callaghan,Terry McDermott, Ray Clemence, Phil Neal, Ray Kennedy and Emlyn Hughes

Coach Nielsen Remembered
Danes Will Tell You He Was Probably The Best Manager in the World…

by Rob Shepherd.

No doubt the FA will offer the family and friends of Sir Tom Finney, who passed away last week, a fitting tribute at Wembley when England play Denmark on Wednesday week.

So much has been written and said about Finney already but a fond Wembley farewell is a must.

Richard Moller Nielsen should also be offered respect before the World Cup warm-up.

richardMollerNielsen

Danish legend Nielsen passed away last week

Nielsen, who passed away a day before 91-year-old Sir Tom at the age of 76, was in his own way just as much of legend in Danish football as Finney was in the English game. Not as a player – Nielsen by comparison had a modest career – but as a manager.

For those who don’t recall, it was Nielsen who guided Denmark to their greatest achievement, winning the European Championships in 1992.

That such a small nation won the tournament was remarkable in itself. Even more astonishing was that they did so having prepared for the finals on the beach and went all the way to lift the trophy on the booze.

Denmark had failed to qualify for tournament, but just ahead of the finals in Sweden, civil broke out in Yugoslavia, who were forced to withdraw.

England, managed by Graham Taylor, were already at their pre-tournament camp in Finland when it emerged that their opening game would be against the Danes, not Yugoslavia.

At the time it seemed positive news because all Denmark’s players had dispersed for their summer holidays, so surely England would get off to a good start.

But Nielsen rose to the challenge.

He summoned his stars from their sun loungers in Spain, got them over to Sweden, and inspired the squad with a mixture of method and madness.

Danish Dynamite! - Goals from Jensen and Vilfort upset the Germans in the final

Danish Dynamite! – Goals from Jensen and Vilfort upset the Germans in the final

Work hard, play hard was the basic mantra.

Nielsen, who had controversially axed star player Michael Laudrup – but retained brother Brian – forged a team which rose to the occasion despite being less talented than the 1986 World Cup side.

The fierce team spirit was based on team bonding, which Nielsen achieved as much in the bar after games as on the training ground.

After grinding out an unexpected goalless draw with England in the opening game, Nielsen decided to reward his players with a post-match party that went on into the early hours and involved plenty of Carlsberg.

It proved a smorgasbord of success.

From that point on, the players started to feel they were probably the best pub team in the world.

England would fall apart – Swedes 2 Turnips 1– but the Danes just got better.

Richard-Møller-Nielsen

Richard-Møller-Nielsen, 1937 – 2014

And to complete the Hans Christian Andersen-style fairy tale, they eventually beat the hot favourites Germany in the final 2-0, with John Jensen scoring one of the goals and Peter Schmeichel outstanding between the posts.

But every player in the squad will point to Nielsen as the man that made it all happen.

So let’s hope Wembley offers Richard Moller Nielsen as well as Sir Tom Finney a minute’s applause. And raise a glass.

To get an idea of how big an achievement that success at Euro 92 was, click below;

“Sir Tom Was The Messi of his Day” Tributes Paid To Late Preston Great

Soccer - World Cup Switzerland 1954 - Pool Four - Belgium v England

England’s Tom Finney beats Belgian defender Marcel Dries and prepares to cross during England’s opening game at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, a 4-4 draw.

by Rob Shepherd.

Sir Tom Finney, who died on Friday at the age of 91, had retired from football a couple of years before I was born. But his name, like that of Sir Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright, Jackie Milburn and Len Shackleton, was still spoken of in revered terms by the older generation.

Like my father, they viewed some of the new-style stars of the Sixties such as Bobby Charlton, George Best and Bobby Moore with some circumspection and a suspicion that they could not quite match up to that Golden Age of players in the Fifties who had helped lift the country out the dark days of the Second World War… at least on the home front.

That’s how it goes from father to son in a football household when even if the game is viewed beyond club colours, rose-tinted spectacles can often be worn.

But clearly Finney was one of those players who could have played in any era.

What always resonates is that while wizard winger Matthews was the glamour star of that sepia-tinted era, my old man always argued that Finney was better because he could play on either flank or at inside forward if needed. He also scored more goals with an impressive 30 in 76 England appearances.

Bill Shankley, who before managing Liverpool was Finney’s boss at Preston, endorsed that appraisal.

Shanks once said: ‘Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age… even if he had been wearing an overcoat.’

And even Matthews, who died in 2000, acknowledged: ‘To dictate the pace and course of a game, a player has to be blessed with awesome qualities.

‘Those who have accomplished it on a regular basis can be counted on the fingers of one hand – Pele, Maradona, Best, Di Stefano, and Tom Finney.’

That puts Finney the player into context.

And Finney the man?

Well, he came from a generation when the word gentlemen was a code of honour and playing the game of football was more about passion than pound notes.

Against that of course a man like Finney was denied the financial security his talent deserved after he retired.

But like so many of his era he was not consumed by bitterness or envy about the modern game when so many players who are not fit to darn Finney’s socks are mutli-millionaires before they have started to shave.

In fact on the one occasion I had the privilege to meet Finney, over breakfast the morning after an England game in the early Nineties, he enthused over the ability of Paul Gascoigne.

And he admired David Beckham, not least during a loan spell at Finney’s beloved Preston early in his career.

Sir Tom was one of England's all-time great players, winning 76 caps and scoring 30 goals.

Sir Tom was one of England’s all-time great players, winning 76 caps and scoring 30 goals.

It is to be hoped Finney is suitably honoured by the FA at the forthcoming friendly against Denmark at Wembley. After all, Finney was according to Tommy Docherty the Lionel Messi of his day.

The Doc said: ‘He was the best player I’ve ever seen, alongside Lionel Messi.

‘I watch a lot of Barcelona and when I watch Messi, I close my eyes and can see Tom. I’m serious when I say that Messi is the Tom Finney of today.

‘Just like Finney, Messi is always getting fouled, but doesn’t complain and just gets up and gets on with the game.’

Tom Finney RIP.