“”He was always first for training and last out,” recalls Stocksbridge chairman Allen Bethel. “He was also the life and soul of the party, a Jack the lad.” Vardy’s roguish streak occasionally caused him problems — he was sent off four times in his last season at Stocksbridge, deterring suitors Sheffield United — and he had trouble controlling his temper off the pitch. A conviction for a late-night assault temporarily obliged him to wear an electronic tag and observe an 18:30 p.m. curfew, which would see him substituted midway through games so that he could get home in time. Remembering one such mid-match dash, former Stocksbridge manager Gary Morrow said: “He jumped straight over the railings and into his parents’ car without even getting changed.””
A piece on the rise and rise of Jamie Vardy.
“With teams now more adept at defending leads, playing on the counter-attack has become the preferred modus operandi for many Premier League sides. The knock-on effect is that away victories are on the rise, borne out by the fact that there have been 42 away wins to 43 home wins in England’s top division so far this season. Conventional wisdom dictates that home sides are more likely to win due to familiarity with their surroundings, support from home fans and the onus traditionally being on the hosts to attack. But several teams are subverting the theory, with Arsenal, West Ham United, Crystal Palace, Everton, Liverpool, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa having all picked up more points on the road than at home.”
Here’s a piece on the demise of the Premier League comeback, the rise of the counter-punchers and the erosion of home advantage.
“A run of five straight wins, including a ruthless 3-0 defeat of Manchester United, has left Arsenal level on 25 points with leaders Manchester City after 11 games. With Chelsea flatlining and United enduring a chronic goal shortage, Arsenal are widely seen as City’s most credible rivals, but it is often a case of one step forward, two steps back. Arsenal can outclass United and beat Bayern 2-0, in the reverse fixture, but also lose to Olympiakos and Dinamo Zagreb and crash out of the League Cup after a 3-0 defeat at second-tier Sheffield Wednesday. It is a paradox that means that, in spite of their nascent title ambitions, they have now lost six times at this stage of the season, across all competitions, for the first time since 1991.”
I’ve wrote a piece for AFP on how Arsenal’s drubbing by Bayern Munich underlined vulnerabilities that threaten to become fatal flaws. You can read it here.
“Once again, Mourinho seems to be succumbing to the curse of ‘third season syndrome’, which has dogged him throughout his career. Though unparallelled in his ability to quickly forge winning teams, Mourinho has never worked at a club for four full seasons, as results invariably slope off after his second campaign. He angrily dismissed the theory when it was put to him recently — “click Google instead of asking stupid questions” — but Chelsea’s current woes are bearing it out more starkly than any of his previous experiences. When Mourinho last left Chelsea, in September 2007, it was because his relationship with owner Roman Abramovich had broken down and although he was recently given a public vote of confidence, there are suggestions that his abrasive antics may have upset the club hierarchy.”
I’ve written a piece looking at the problems facing José Mourinho, which you can read here.
“Mourinho is a self-confessed Clough admirer and he is not the first European coach to have been inspired by a British manager, as the enduring use of phrases like ‘le coach’ and ‘il mister’ across the continent demonstrates. It is testament to the influence of early-20th-century pioneers like the bowler-hatted Fred Pentland, Athletic Bilbao’s greatest coach, or William Garbutt, who gave birth to the professional manager in Italy during his time at Genoa. Whereas clubs on continental Europe have generally moved away from the old model of an all-powerful manager, with sporting directors widespread and coaches’ remits often extending little further than the boundaries of the training ground, the notion prevails in the Premier League. But while England still clings to the image of the authoritarian manager of yore, the profession is evolving rapidly.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP on Jürgen Klopp, England’s cult of the manager and a managerial changing of the guard in the Premier League – you can read it here.
“‘The goal is of course over time that this is a final destination. Maybe it isn’t yet for players, but we’re moving towards that. We still understand where we sit in the whole balance of English football and we respect that. But we’re working hard at every level in the club to grow in a fashion that it becomes an end destination. We have to earn that.'”
Read about my meeting with Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger here.
“Klopp, unmistakable with his stubble and glasses, built Dortmund’s game around the principle of gegenpressing, or counter-pressing. It soon became a buzzword in European football and fans in Germany grew accustomed to the sight of Klopp’s yellow-shirted hordes asphyxiating their opponents with high pressing and quick transitions. It was an approach that reached its apogee in a 4-1 demolition of Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the 2012-13 Champions League semi-finals, when Robert Lewandowski scored all four goals. Dortmund ran out of puff last season, finishing seventh in the league and losing to Wolfsburg in the German Cup final, but Klopp has had time to fine-tune his philosophy during a five-month sabbatical.”
Me and my AFP colleague Ryland James have had a look at how Liverpool manager-elect Jürgen Klopp is likely to approach the challenges facing him at Anfield. You can read our piece here.
“Obliged to lead the line alone in manager Louis van Gaal’s single-striker system, he has looked isolated and off the pace, his touch betraying him, his famous explosiveness diminished. It has brought to mind the words uttered last year by Paul Scholes, Rooney’s former United team-mate, who said that Rooney’s premature emergence as a teenager means he may have reached his peak some years ago. Rooney himself has dismissed suggestions that he is past his best and has pointed with justification to a historical record that shows his fallow periods are frequently followed by flurries of goals. And yet there is no escaping the fact that he is no longer the game-changing force of nature, the rampaging bull, that burst onto the scene with Everton at the age of 16, earning him the nickname ‘the White Pelé’.”
A piece on Wayne Rooney, and the gulf between the player he threatened to become and the player he actually is.
“Thierry Henry, with whom Martial is often compared, was similarly raw when he left Monaco for Juventus in 1999, but he was two years older, had twice as many games behind him and had already won a World Cup. Henry himself has described the deal as a “massive gamble”. Like Henry, Martial is a striker who started his senior career as a winger and he is similarly drawn to the left flank, from where he can cut inside onto his right foot and shoot at goal. The fact he has been handed the number nine shirt, coupled with Rooney’s early-season struggles as United’s lone striker, suggests he will be given a chance to play through the middle.”
I’ve written a piece on the challenges facing Anthony Martial at Manchester United and you can read it here.
Related link: English clubs impose Martial law in Europe
“While big-money arrivals at United, City and Chelsea have long been the norm, it is the sight of Yohan Cabaye in Crystal Palace’s colours or Xherdan Shaqiri lining up for Stoke City that hammer home England’s financial might. The structure of the Premier League’s TV deals means that money is shared evenly across the division and English clubs are also reaping the rewards of slick commercial operations. United’s new kit deal with German sportswear firm Adidas is worth £750 million, on top of several commercial contracts including a £330 million sponsorship agreement with American car giant Chevrolet. “We’ve seen in recent years tremendous commercial growth from the largest clubs and that’s helping fuel some of this transfer spending,” Alex Thorpe from Deloitte’s Sports Business Group told AFP.”
A piece on how English clubs have come to distort the European transfer market can be found here.