Archive | June, 2013

The Return of Mourinho

5 Jun

Parkinson. Take That. Liverpool in Istanbul. Peter Mandelson. Our proud nation has seen many great comebacks in its time.  This week, Roman Abramovic will be sacrificing a fatted calf to celebrate the return of his prodigal son.  Jose is back!

I’m flinging journalistic impartiality out of the window here and now.  I think Jose Mourinho is fantastic.  Ever since the young Porto manager went tearing down the touchline to celebrate a two-legged winner at Old Trafford, the Special One has had a special place in my heart.  Mourinho appearing on screen is like watching Gollum in Lord of the Rings; he’s the only bit worth paying attention to.  Housewives up and down the country won’t be the only ones going weak at the knees on his return.  Players, fans, journalists, other managers – Mourinho pretty much groomed the nation last time he was here.

Too Good has expressed its admiration for Jose’s managerial record before.  He’s the top dog.  The man from Setúbal had every right to call himself “a special one” (he never actually said “the special one”, but indefinite articles don’t carry quite the same quotability…).  Mourinho is a big game hunter and he has a glittering trophy cabinet.  Chelsea are the clear winners in the managerial merry-go-round.

Not dissimilar to goats being able to predict an earthquake, bookmakers usually have a feel for the seismic impact of an arrival at a football club.  Mourinho’s announcement has positioned Chelsea as near enough joint favourites for next year’s premiership (Chelsea are at 31%, United at 33% and City, remarkably, have their noses in front at 35%).  You wouldn’t want to bet against Jose repeating his previous trick of winning the league in his first year.  Don’t forget Chelsea are already a team that, aside from a horror show of 4 points in seven games in late autumn, were posting title-contending numbers for the majority of last season.

Are there any flies in the West London ointment?  Most worriment focuses on Mourinho’s longevity.  The accusation goes that Jose has all the matrimonial sticking power of Liz Taylor.  I think Mourinho’s reputation as a jilter is a bit unkind.  If anything, it would be fairer to characterise him as having a penchant for choosing to work with despotic lunatics.  Roman Abramovic and Florentino Pérez are to sound minds what I am to high fashion.  Neither of them have shown the ability to nurture a manager any longer than Lenny in Of Mice and Men was able to hold a mouse.  Only at Porto and Inter, where Mourhino was clearly getting a promotion of sorts (to Chelsea and Real Madrid, respectively), could he be said to be leaving clubs entirely of his own volition

I suspect Mourinho’s tenure will surprise people in its length.  Jose has made no secret of his desire to coach Portugal one day but this shouldn’t worry Chelsea fans.  National teams are the preserve of managerial dinosaurs these days.  A way of keeping your toe in once the demands of 38 games a season at the coal-face are no longer bearable.  A mere pup aged 50, Mourinho is at least a decade away from being at the helm of the Seleção.  

As for club teams likely to tempt him away, I’m not sure where else he would now go.  Manchester United don’t seem to want him, despite his gushing post-match press interview at Old Trafford in March (behaviour that was every inch him making eyes across the dance floor).  He hates Barcelona and he was practically chased out of Italy. He’s running out of options at the top-table.

Mourinho’s second reign will more likely depend on whether Abramovic can resist the urge to meddle.  The temptation is completely understandable, if unwise.  Roman has bought the chess set, so he wants to move the pieces.  But Jose will not take kindly to being lumbered with another Shevchenko.  If the restless Russian starts to rock the marital boat, Jose isn’t one to stick it out for the good of the children.

What should be of greater concern is whether Mourinho can recreate the same magic of his first visit.  Sequels are rarely as good as the original.  And, outside of a Champions League win, it’s hard to see how he can top his first visit.  Now’s the time for the job, though.  Between them, Villas Boas and Benitez have performed the gritty but necessary transition from the old guard.  Gone is the reliance on Drogba, Essien, Terry and Lampard.  Those that remain from Mourinho Mark One know they are no longer guaranteed starters.  At Jose’s disposal is a young, talented crop of players crying out to be steered to greatness.  In Mata, Oscar and Hazard, Chelsea have one of the finest attacking midfield trios in world football. 

Mourinho likes a war chest and Abramovich will indulge him.  He has presumably been assured he can buy at least one top-class striker, unless he’s bringing with him a defibrillator to use on Fernando Torres.  In the long haul, Lukaku shows a lot of promise (and physical strikers are often late developers).  You would think, though, that Roman will want to gift Jose with a welcome home present.  A fatted calf is one thing but someone who will snaffle 20-25 goals could easily make the difference in a tilt for the title.  Robin van Persie showed that.  If Chelsea can come up with some bona fide penalty box ammunition over the summer, Honest Too Good’s Unofficial Gambling Consultancy will be advising a crisp fiver on the title ending up at Stamford Bridge next year.

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“You know, Jose, I’ve always been a big fan of Raul…”

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How England can win the World Cup

2 Jun

Archimedes was soaking in the tub when he discovered displacement theory.  Isaac Newton took a breather under an apple tree.  “Let it Be” came to Paul McCartney in a dream.  I was cycling home from KFC when I had my Eureka moment.  Without wishing to over-egg the pudding, I think I might have just come up with an idea that will have Roy Hodgson’s boys winning world cups for years to come.

*England* play in the premiership.

Here me out.  Call them FC England (or England ‘A’, or Albion, it doesn’t matter).  FC England operate on a similar policy to Athletic Bilbao.  Except rather than selecting players only from the Basque region (which, admittedly, might be a better idea…), FC only pick players who are eligible to play for England. 

FC England will adopt the same style and formation as the national team.  The benefits of continuity in style of play are evident at La Masia.  Barcelona play the same formation in their Under 7’s team as they do with the big boys.  The transition is therefore seamless.  By extension, the Spanish national team also enjoy greater prosperity by playing a similar style of football to Barcelona.

England, currently, play nothing like a similar style or formation to any of the big premier league teams.  So let’s create one.  Rather than looking like eleven blokes who met in the car park 30 minutes before kick-off, England could play with a confidence and cohesion that has been forged over several seasons in the testing fires of the premier league.  A noble aim, but who can ensure such similarities in play will be implemented?  I’ll tell you who.  Roy Hodgson earns £3million per annum to coach a measly six competitive games a year.  Roy is a decent man and keen as mustard to see English football progress.  So I’m sure he’ll be delighted to up his gaffering responsibilities to a full league season.  If he will persist with this prehistoric 4-4-2 set-up in the national team, he shall have the benefit of implementing it week-in, week-out in the premiership.  Two banks of four may score low with the judges on degree of difficulty, but at least our execution will be spot on.

To be clear, Too Good isn’t suggesting some sort of state-sanctioned annexation of players.  No-one is going to be forced to play for the domestic Three Lions.  By the same token, though, turning out for them is hardly going to damage anyone’s chances of an international call-up.  Wizard of the wing, Adam Johnson, did nought but hurt his England opportunities by enjoying a couple of seasons on the comfortable and well-appointed substitute seats at the Etihad.  Poor old “Jinky” then hammered the final nail into his international coffin by joining Sunderland.  38 games a season under the watchful glare of Mr Hodgson is not exactly the worst way to guarantee AJ a seat on the plane for Brazil 2014.  If you’re lucky, Roy may even extoll some of the coaching titbits that made him a managerial legend in the footballing powerhouses of Norway and Switzerland.  Off the top of my head, James Milner, Ashley Young, Adam Johnson, Danny Rose, Ryan Bertram and a no-longer-first-choice-at-Chelsea John Terry would all benefit from signing up for the Albion All-stars.

The fanciful notion propounded herein would quickly fall foul of “castles in the sky” accusations were it not underpinned by sound logistics.  No great idea can survive on Jamie Milner alone.  There are issues of facilities and fan-base to consider.  For one thing, FC England need a ground to play on.  I’ve decided that Wembley will do very nicely for home games.  Not much by way of training facilities around there, though, unless Hodgson’s competence really is limited to a quick game of Head Tennis on Wembley Way.  What would be extremely useful is if there was some sort of national football centre with state-of-the-art facilities.  St George’s Park, you say?  £105million well spent.  We’ll take it.  Between the Burton development and Wembley, you have nigh on £1billion in footballing infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, Eileen Drewery is no longer on the payroll of the Football Association, so we can only use ordinary powers of speculation as to what kind of fan-base FC England would have.  I’d like to think that, on some level, we would all be fans.  It is, after all, England.  English players in club teams tend to enjoy a special place in the hearts of most fans (I would gladly pledge my first-born daughter to Micah Richards).  So a team full of Englishmen ought to similarly endear.

Football clubs used to be the sinews of the locality.  However, with the introduction of all of those Jonathan Overseas into English football, this is increasingly no longer the case.  I’m no protectionist; a premier league with players from all corners of the globe is a fantastic thing.  I also think that, contrary to the opinion of many, the influx has been very good for English players (would the national team really be any better if our top-flight contained no foreigners but was barely any higher in standard than the Championship?)  However, anyone whose main driver for supporting their local team used to be watching footballers from their area must no longer feel the same strength of bond.  Maybe a few of these fans could support FC England.  Since FC can be run on a not-for-profit basis, ticket prices would be cheaper, too.

Before you dismiss this idea as merely the mad ramblings of a recent premier league champion, think about this.  The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting different results.  And nobody got anywhere new by taking the path most travelled.  The current trajectory for the English national team is down, not up.  We’re getting worse; and dressing up as the Germans isn’t the answer.  Full marks to England for not ballsing it up quite as quickly as we suspected they would in the Euros, but drawing at home to Ireland and being bossed by Montenegro in our WC qualifying group is not what you would call optimal.  We need to take a different route. 

There was a time when World Cups and European Championships evoked feelings of hope and expectation.  Recent major tournaments have conjured images of 11 flustered men on the fringes of sunburn.  We don’t look like we are going to achieve anything by conventional methods.  So let’s give this a go.  And if that means only two teams go up from the Npower Championship this year, so be it.  Ian Holloway gets annoying over a whole season, anyway.  Consider it a patriotic sacrifice for glory to be brought on the nation.  It’s a small price to pay to watch an ageing John Terry, adorned head-to-toe in his clean and unspoilt kit, lift the world cup high above his head in the Maracana.

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There’s only one way this beautiful image will become a reality…