When Sackings Work

Last January, two days after Southampton’s impressive 2-2 draw away to Chelsea, club chairman Nicola pochettinoCortese sacked Nigel Adkins, the physio-turned-manager who had guided Southampton from League One all the way to the Premier League. Cortese immediately unveiled Adkins’ replacement: Mauricio Pochettino, a young, talented former Espanyol coach who didn’t speak a word of English. “Far-fetched was how the Premier League appeared then to Saints,” lamented Daily Mail columnist Michael Walker, referring to Southampton’s years in the lower divisions. “Far-fetched is how Adkins’ dismissal appears now.”

Walker wasn’t the only critic of Cortese’s decision – Southampton was on a six-game unbeaten streak at the time, and many pundits, including Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier, who said that Cortese had “a bit of an ego problem,” feared that Adkins’ departure would Unsettle The Dressing Room.

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How Will The FA Respond To The Hugo Lloris Controversy?

Last Sunday, at the end of Tottenham’s 0-0 draw with Everton, Romelu Lukaku’s knee – which, for the Hugo Lloris Tottenham Hotspurrecord, is just as big as the rest of his body – crashed into Hugo Lloris’ head. (Despite Andre Villas-Boas’ complaints and Roberto Martinez’s suspicious attempts to change the subject , the collision was almost certainly accidental.) Lloris was knocked out, Spurs medics rushed onto the field to treat him, second-string goalkeeper Brad Friedel prepared to enter the game…and then, somehow, Lloris recovered. He got up and played the final ten minutes, sealing his seventh clean sheet of the season. On the sidelines, Friedel started to chuckle  – that French bastard is so frickin’ tough!

Villas-Boas insists that Lloris felt fine and that the Spurs medical team, the same doctors who saved Fabrice Muamba’s life, decided there was no reason he shouldn’t continue playing. FIFPRO, the world players’ union; the PFA; and even the House of Commons quickly denounced the episode, however, and on Thursday Labour MP Chris Bryant called for “an urgent debate as soon as possible on the dangers of concussion in sport.”

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The Unfriendly One

About a week and a half ago, Andres Villas-Boas announced to the world that Jose Mourinho is no longer his avb and mourinhofriend. “We had a great personal and professional relationship before. We don’t have that now,” Villas-Boas said in a press conference before Spurs’ 1-1 draw with Chelsea. “I don’t lose any sleep.”

Villas-Boas scouted for Mourinho at Porto, Inter and Chelsea,  but he wanted to participate in training sessions and contribute to game-day meetings. Mourinho saw AVB for the dangerously ambitious football nerd he was, rejected his requests, and lost a friend.  Or so the story goes.

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Alan Pardew Is Right: Why The Transfer Window Should Have Ended Three Weeks Ago

In the past two weeks, Manchester United and Chelsea have played The First Big Match of The Season, a more-cabayeinteresting-than-most-people-think 0-0 draw; Arsenal has plunged into chaos, then suddenly recovered, almost as if the team hadn’t plunged into chaos in the first place; Aston Villa’s new defender, Antonio Luna (gangster nickname: Tony Moon), has established himself as one of the league’s most hilariously erratic players; and Swansea City’s new striker, Wilfried Bony (gangster nickname: Daddy Cool), has scored his first Premier League goal.

In short, a lot has happened since Liverpool kicked off the new season earlier this month. But because the summer transfer window doesn’t close until September 2, by which point every Premier League team will have played three games, transfer speculation – stuff that hasn’t happened, like Gareth Bale’s “imminent” move to Real Madrid, and David Moyes’ attempts to sign Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines – is still dominating newspaper headlines.

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Angry and Confused: Why Wayne Rooney Should Join Chelsea

Wayne Rooney didn’t play in last Sunday’s Community Shield; he had injured his shoulder just a couple of daysrooney chelsea before kickoff. That must have been pretty disappointing. In July, Rooney pulled out of Manchester United’s pre-season tour; he had injured his hamstring just a couple of days before United’s first match.

Before this summer’s 11th-hour injuries, Rooney had clashed with Sir Alex Ferguson over “playing time,” a highly charged, somewhat misleading phrase that can probably be taken to mean “prostitutes, cigarettes, cow metaphors, New Year’s dinners, and Robin van Persie.” In the past month, Chelsea has submitted two bids for Rooney, offering cash and (according to early reports) Juan Mata. Jose Mourinho recently described Chelsea’s summer transfer policy as “Rooney or bust.”

But David Moyes would likely argue that it’s irrelevant whether Rooney has systematically faked injuries in a rebellious effort to force a transfer to Chelsea, because no matter what Rooney does, United isn’t going to sell.

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Five Transfer Headlines That Seem Important

Clint Dempsey to the Seattle Sounders: This transfer is pretty baffling. Clint Dempsey is in his prime. He plays dempsey seattlefor Tottenham Hotspur, which will qualify for next season’s Champions League. (You heard it here first.) He is a cult hero. So why did he decide to leave the Premier League?

I watch Major League Soccer regularly, manage an MLS fantasy team, and tolerate the incoherent bloviating of pundits like Alexi Lalas and Simon Borg. I am both an American soccer fan and a fan of American soccer. But I would love it (love it) if Dempsey stayed in England for a few more seasons.

Cesc Fabregas to Manchester United: Last month, Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward left the team’s Asia Tour to attend to “urgent business.” According to the English media, Woodward was finalizing a deal for Cesc Fabregas, who lost interest in Barcelona when it became clear that Xavi Hernandez has resilient knees. Needless to say, Fabregas hasn’t joined United – nor, for that matter, has anyone else. I’m increasingly certain that David Moyes and Woodward, who replaced the unpopular but devastatingly effective David Gill, have no idea what they’re doing.

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Cliches about Cliches: The Wrong Way to Cover the Summer Transfer Window

Last month, Rory Smith, a writer for ESPNFC, published an article titled “Cracking the Transfer Window Code.” higuainSmith bills the piece as “a public service announcement” that will “help us pick our way through the endless night of summer,” then makes a few tired jokes about British tabloids (don’t believe everything you read, kids) and the transfer-window vernacular (United remains hopeful, despite rumors that want-away striker Wayne Rooney has set his heart on a move to Chelsea).

The football media comprises two main groups: the mischievous news outlets that report transfer gossip as if it were fact, and the “serious” sites that run Jonathan Wilson articles and care about things like, you know, ethics. Most of the year, the serious sites are the only ones worth visiting: they feature stories about tactical trends and neurotic South American coaches, while the tabloids explore the minutiae of Cristiano Ronaldo’s love life.

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In For The Hat Trick Elsewhere

Check out my latest articles:wayne rooney ugly

World Soccer Talk:

Red Flag Flying High:

Pride of all Europe:

(Right: An unflattering picture of Wayne “I’m angry and confused” Rooney.)

Barcelona is the Best and You Know It: Graham Hunter’s 400-page Fanzine

FC Barcelona’s world-famous academy is no longer based at “La Masia,” the endearingly decrepit farmhouse in which Lionel Messi of Barcelonamany of Barca’s homegrown players spent their formative years. In 2011, the club moved its training complex to the shiny, modern Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, which contains, among other things, an enormous sauna.

Over the last decade, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas have graduated from the old, La Masia-based academy, where they learned drills like rondo, a kind of monkey-in-the-middle game that promotes quick passing and intelligent pressing. The place was legendary; as Graham Hunter explains in Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, it had become a byword for Barcelona’s unique philosophy, its more-than-a-club-ness.

In another era, the relocation might have provoked an angry backlash. But in early 2011 – a couple of months away from its second Champions League title in three seasons, cruising in La Liga, scoring brilliant goals just about every game – Barca could do no wrong. Twenty-eleven was also the year newly elected president Sandro Rosell decided that the club’s long-standing refusal to negotiate a jersey sponsorship constituted financial suicide, and quickly struck a deal with a Qatari airline – but not many people complained about that decision, either.

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Daniel Yeo on The Perils of Youth Football

This is a guest piece by Daniel Yeo.

In the last two decades, youth football has changed dramatically. It was always competitive, but football’s liverpool academyfinancial growth has made it positively ruthless.

In an interview with the BBC’s Sport Academy, Roger Skyrme claimed that it’s “ultra-competitive out there, and very few players make it at the top level.”

This brutal competitiveness has driven academies to neglect other aspects of their young players’ lives. Typically, when a 16-year-old signs up as a scholar, he spends one day during the week receiving some sort of educational support from the club and the rest either training or playing matches. This sounds promising. It’s not.

According to the PFA, of the initial intake of academy scholars, only around forty percent receive full-time contracts after two years. Even more shockingly, by the age of 21, just twenty percent play professional football at any level. Suddenly, with four out of five scholars ultimately failing to make a breakthrough in the footballing world, one school day per week seems pretty measly.

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