Mario Balotelli and the lessons of Liverpool Past

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I look at two lessons from Liverpool’s recent past for Mario Balotelli…

Mario Balotelli is at a crossroads. In fact, Mario Balotelli is always at a crossroads.

Every decision he makes, however crucial or anodyne, is analysed for its far-reaching consequences and wider meaning by somebody somewhere. Every pass, every run, every shot, every turn is scrutinised and pored over in minute detail like every dismissal suffered by Kevin Pietersen. The record-breaking batsman once famously said, “It’s tough being me in this dressing room”, and you imagine the Italian knows where he’s coming from.

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Editor’s Column: Is Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero the best in the Premier League?

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I assess the true value of Sergio Aguero, and look back at a fascinating international break…

The Premier League has undoubtedly lost a little of its stardust over the last two seasons. The departures of Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez to La Liga have shorn the country’s greatest export of its two most globally acclaimed star players.

The summer arrivals of Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Alexis Sanchez were welcome steps in the right direction for a league which prides itself on being The Best In The World™. But perhaps the league’s shining light was already staring us in the face?

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World Cup 2014: ITV Preview Belgium v Algeria

Myself and Greg Johnson imagine the scenes in the ITV studios as they cover Belgium’s opening game at the 2014 World Cup against Algeria…

Adrian Chiles: Goeiendag! Hallo! Welgekomen to ITV’s coverage of the Red Devils from Belgium against the Desert Foxes of Algeria. Yes, that’s right, Belgium are in town and the golden generation is ready to take the world by storm. With me, overlooking the beauty of the Copacabana Beach are Lee Dixon, Roy Kea… sorry… Patrick Vieira and Fabio Cannavaro.

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Why James Milner can be England’s new Owen Hargreaves

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I wonder whether James Milner can have a similar impact on England’s World Cup as Owen Hargreaves did in 2006…

It’s fashionable to knock James Milner. His sheer unfashionability demands it.

Milner has a certain longevity which is barely credible. He broke Wayne Rooney’s short-lived record as the youngest Premier League goalscorer nearly 12 years ago in December 2002 at 16 years and 309 days. He won 46 caps for the England U21s, over a five-year period, a total that he has only recently passed with the senior side – cap number 47 coming, ironically, filling in at right-back.

He was the recipient of the 2009-10 Young Player of the Year award, in his eighth season as a professional footballer, which says as much about the credentials of that award as it does Milner’s unspectacular consistency in the years leading up to it.

Everyone expected something different from Milner. When a 16-year old breaks the Premier League’s youngest goalscorer record you’re inclined to expect something more fantastical than what Milner has offered during his dependable and steady career. Continue reading

Interview: Gavin Rose and His Pink and Blue Army

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 I spoke to Dulwich Hamlet boss Gavin Rose about the club’s rise through non-league football, and his further ambitions in the game…

Hidden away in a leafy borough of South London, Dulwich Hamlet have been making waves in non-league football this season. Enjoyable, attractive, attacking football has put the club and its feverish supporters on the cusp of a second consecutive promotion, this time to the Conference South – almost unprecedented in the club’s proud history.

Gavin Rose is coming towards the conclusion of his fifth season at Champion Hill, and barring any last-minute changes he will end it as one of only seven black managers in the top eight divisions of English football. The other six are, like the 37-year-old from Peckham, managing in non-league football.

Ambition marks Rose out from many of his contemporaries at this level. Does he see himself as a manager in the Football League in the next five years? “Definitely,” is the immediate, assertive response. But it should not be mistaken for arrogance, he recognises that he has no divine right to make it that far. It’s a philosophy that underpins his personality, and shines through in his beliefs about the game he loves.

What would be holding him back from that, barring the A license coaching badge that still needs to be earned? Other than himself, he sees no stumbling block.

But with the sackings of Chris Powell and Chris Hughton in the last month, there are now no black managers in charge of the 92 clubs that comprise the Premier League and Football League. He is well versed on the subject, this stain on English football, but perhaps surprisingly unfazed.

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Editor’s Column: Moyes his own worst enemy, Mourinho the puppet master and Liverpool’s transfer woes

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I discussed whether David Moyes is learning as a manager, Jose Mourinho’s sale of Juan Mata and Liverpool’s continuing transfer problems…

The semi finals of the League Cup have been the setting for the confirmation of a number of narratives in recent years.

In 2010 Manchester United proved to be a bridge too far, too soon for Roberto Mancini’s upstarts. In 2011 Birmingham City and West Ham United played out an interminable struggle, a dogfight that reflected their relegation credentials. A year later Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool proved their mettle as that season’s cup specialists by seeing off champions-elect Manchester City over two legs.

In years gone by a 9-0 aggregate result between Manchester City and West Ham United would have plumbed the depths of fantasy, but few have batted an eyelid given the obvious gulf in class between the top and bottom of the Premier League in 2013-14.  Continue reading

Where are Swansea going?

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After a year of underachievement, I wondered where Michael Laudrup’s Swansea were heading…

A year is a long time in football, so the adage goes. It’s a year ago today that Swansea held Chelsea to a 0-0 draw at the Liberty Stadium, Eden Hazard kicked a ball-boy and Michael Laudrup led the Welsh club into their first major final.

It was the high-point of Laudrup’s 18 months thus far on the South Welsh coast, culminating in the 5-0 spanking of League 2 Bradford. They won only twice more in the Premier League that season, and have tasted victory only five times in the league this season. Some have called it a sideways step, but the figures paint a picture of regression.

The Swans currently sit 15th in the table, equidistant from both the relegation places and mid-table, but the gap is a mere three points. The season so far has been a tale of slow decline, where they have nestled between 9th and 13th for the majority of it, but now, winless since the beginning of December, they have been sucked into the middle of a relegation battle that is eating up the bottom half of the table. Continue reading

Doni – Liverpool’s Jinxed Brazilian

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As part of The Samba Series, I remember Doni’s time at Liverpool and his chastening trips to England with Roma…

How do you assess the impact of a goalkeeper who played nine games on English soil, but only four of them for an English side?

A goalkeeper who conceded seven goals on his first appearance in 2007, and was sent off in his seventh, which arrived fully four years later.

A goalkeeper whose departure from these shores was shrouded in mystery and intrigue, only for it to later emerge that he had suffered a heart attack during a routine medical.

That is Doni’s lot. Continue reading

Editor’s Column: The Premier League Season of Over-Reaction, Exaggeration and Paradox

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I survey the top of the Premier League and try to make sense of the six-point gap between 1st and 8th…

The third international break of the football season is upon us. This is traditionally the stage where journalists, bloggers and punters share their opinions and observations of the season so far.

In November 2013 though, to make sense of a nascent season that is knocked out of its rhythm week after week is to reckon against its perpetuation. Hindsight makes fools of us all, as those who reveled in Arsenal’s seemingly inevitable demise after their opening-day capitulation against Aston Villa and those who struggled to fathom the Moyesification of Manchester United (guilty) have found out.

That is not to say that Arsenal have both banished their demons of seasons gone by, or been found out by a resurgent Manchester United – who likewise have neither found the cure for their early-season woes or nosedived off a cliff into mediocrity.

This is the season of overreaction and exaggeration; the season of paradoxes. Continue reading