Das Wunderkind Julian Draxler. 10 minutes in all his glory.
The work of videographer: Culann Davies
Das Wunderkind Julian Draxler. 10 minutes in all his glory.
The work of videographer: Culann Davies
Welcome to Manchester, Mata
It’s official. Whether we wanted to see this one happen or not, Juan Mata leaves London for a record £40m to play for Manchester United. It’s time to forget those two and a half illustrious seasons at The Bridge and set a new stage alight, the Theatre of Dreams. Juan, the audience is all yours.
Something I wrote on Roberto Martinez for my University newspaper in December.
There’s this man with Catalan roots earning plaudits for his football management nous. In his playing days, he was a midfielder who earned some modest success. He speaks better English than some natives. He dresses like he’s the new young thing from Wall Street sporting well tailored suits and some pricey looking jackets/coats and brogues. He has a great take on the way football should be played and never compromises on his beliefs. He’s an optimist who sees the silver lining even when his teams are well beaten. Take a guess who I’m talking about. And no, it’s not Pep Guardiola.
In the last three seasons, for fans of Wigan Athletic there have been two constants in the summer months: Roberto Martinez being linked to bigger jobs is one. David Whelan, the club’s chairman getting more news coverage than usual providing updates and singing his praises to high heavens the other. Whelan has been ridiculed as being something of a media whore who would always provide an easy sound bite or headline. Recently, he said Manchester United made a mistake in not appointing Martinez as Manager. There was the approach from Aston Villa which Martinez rejected. There was an approach from Liverpool before Brendan Rodgers (who profited from the groundwork Martinez carried out at Swansea) got the job. Last summer, Everton got their man after Moyes took the United job.
At Wigan, Martinez was hugely successful in that he ensured a team cursed geographically being more of a rugby town did not get relegated. He also insisted on his teams playing attractive football and was able to oversee a vast improvement in players who were then sold for big bucks who have struggled to attain the great run of form they hit under his tutelage. Victor Moses, Hugo Rodallega, Mohammed Diame and Charles N’zogbia among them. He even made Tom Cleverley look decent. His tactical astuteness saw his Wigan team beat Arsenal and Manchester United in the same week in April 2012. The United defeat of greater significance when one takes into consideration that United lost the title on goal difference that season in one of the greatest climaxes to a football season in recent history.
At Everton, with a better pool of players as opposed to Wigan he looks even brighter. The notion that Everton have traded up by appointing Martinez as Moyes replacement has been gathering steam. Think of your decent girlfriend breaking up with you? And instead of falling into a state of depression and sadness, you manage to bag a much more attractive one. Yes, that’s Everton fans right now.
On the final day of the transfer window, the consensus was that Everton had done the best business. Gareth Barry was brought in on loan and James McCarthy brought from Wigan. Marouane Fellaini who had looked out of place in Martinez’s slick passing outfit was sold to Manchester United for a couple of millions more than his recently expired release clause. Romelu Lukaku was also brought in on loan after falling out with Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.
Martinez’s Everton look better than Moyes’s for one reason: he’s a proactive manager. Being proactive is more likely to earn laurels and rewards as opposed to being reactive. This Everton are built on adventure. Full backs bomb forward whilst Barry and McCarthy sit and cover the spaces left behind whilst keeping the game ticking. Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar provide the touch of flair whilst Lukaku does his best Didier Drogba impression. Ross Barkley also catches the eye with his ambidextrosity and willingness to take on opponents and shoot on goal earning comparisons with Michael Ballack and Paul Gascogine.
It also helps that Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin are remarkably solid at the back and consistent. It is imperative not to discount Moyes’s output in that he provided a great platform on which Martinez was able to build upon. This has helped him shatter the invisible ceiling Moyes imposed on the team. A list of their conquests includes big boys like Chelsea (In Mourinho’s first defeat in his second coming) and Manchester United (Beating them at Old Trafford for the first time in my lifetime). They have the fewest defeats this season (losing only to Manchester City) and Mikel Arteta declared them the best team Arsenal has played against at the Emirates all season. The steel of Moyes and the flair and tactical nous of Martinez is proving the perfect marriage.
After leading his Wigan team to the FA Cup and relegation in one week, Martinez is dispelling some of his biggest doubters. Mr. Whelan might just have been right in anointing him the chosen one.
The French defence analyze Ronaldo on the eve of the 1998 World Cup final.
Moneyball meets Wenger ball: Billy Beane and Arsene Wenger as brothers in arms
Billy Beane is kind of a big deal. The subject of a bestselling book? Tick. An Oscar nominated film adaptation of said book? Tick. Angelina Jolie orgasm supplier playing him in said film? Tick. As most sports enter the age of Nate Silver where statistics and analytics play a bigger role in scouting and recruitment decisions, Beane stands at the forefront as the innovator of the much discussed Moneyball model to baseball analysis.
Billy Beane’s closest football ally is Arsene Wenger. His methods tally with Wenger’s innate sense of economic responsibility and he is on record as describing the Frenchman as ” undoubtedly the sports executive whom I admire most”. In a recent interview with Rory Smith of the Times, he says of Wenger’s Arsenal ” Every year they are in the top four. They are paying down their debts. They have a stadium. If you are looking for a model, that is the one you look at”. Smith highlights the sense of kinship between the two by writing “Both men, after all are pioneers. Just as Wenger’s arrival in North London heralded a sea -change in English football’s attitudes to nutrition, preparation, tactics and scouting, so Beane’s devotion to analytics turned baseball on its head. ”
Just as Beane used statistical analysis to shape his recruitment strategy, Wenger, a trained economist stood at the forefront in football. Simon Kuper, the Dutch writer who has made a name writing sports profiles for the Financial Times amongst other publications and is also one of the great authorities on football economics tells that when seeking a midfielder who could grow to replace ex stalwart, Patrick Vieira Wenger scoured the databases at his access looking for midfielders who covered the most distance in games. One of the names that returned caught Wenger, a man credited as being one of the all knowing oracles of modern football by surprise: Mathieu Flamini, then yet to receive a professional contract at Olympic Marseille. After further scouting, Flamini would find himself on the way to Arsenal’s London Colney training ground to continue the next chapter of his life. Whilst football caught up with Wenger, he and Arsenal have made a bold attempt to gain a lead on their rivals. One of the big revelations from their recent annual general meeting was the purchase of an American company specializing in data management linking to the impact of statistics in todays climate. A clever move in that by purchasing this piece of intellectual property, they gain exclusivity whilst gaining a lead on their rivals who at the best would be forced to outsource or try and create a rival which would surely be a time consuming exercise.
Kuper was present at the first meeting between Wenger and Beane “In the speakers’ room of a conference in London in October 2010, I watched Wenger and Beane sit on a sofa (with, bizarrely, Alastair Campbell) talking for two or three hours. They had never met before. It was a case of mutual fascination, love at first sight” .
These days, Beane is pushing a new approach. It is a recruitment strategy built on ensuring that “We did not have any bad players”. It sounds somewhat obvious in the sense that one is forced to wonder what manager wants to pick his team from a pool containing bad players. Then again, it’s also strange to have someone on record as saying it’s a paert of some conscious self developed philosophy. He explains further “We started managing from the bottom. Every update on player performance we got, we would just cut the guy from the bottom. We did it unconsciously at first, but then it became a conscious effort”. I might be reaching but I can draw parallels to Arsenal’s transfer strategy this summer. For the last four years, if you asked the average Arsenal fan to detail their ideal summer transfer business, high on it would be to “Get rid of the “deadwood” referring to those players retained on the wage bill but made little or no contributions of note. This year, it was taken very serious. The likes of Andrey Arshavin and Sebastian Squillaci who had become expensive pensioners did not find their contracts renewed getting their heavy wages off the wage bill. The Ivorien forward, Gervinho blessed with great dribbling ability and cursed with a habit of missing sitters and worrisome end product found himself off to Rome. The Italian goalkeeper, Vito Mannone joined Paolo di Canio’s Sunderland Italian revolution. They didn’t stop there. Some mutually terminated their contracts meaning Arsenal effectively paid off the likes of Marouane Chamakh, Andre Santos and Denilson to leave. Those like the central defenders, Johan Djourou and Ignasi Miquel were sent on loan despite Arsenal having only three recognised centre backs in Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen(who has missed the start of the season with injury). The only one blot would be Nicklas Bendtner who apparently was going to earn himself a 3million pay off and the opportunity to join Chamakh at Crystal Palace but found himself unable to when Arsenal failed to recruit a new striker on deadline day. The impact of this being that although the team is deficient in terms of numbers, those left are all of sufficient quality and no member of the squad could be patently termed a “weak point” in the way Andre Santos earned for himself in that match at Old Trafford. This has also ensured that the cream of the youngsters have found a clearer path to the first team. It is difficult to fathom Serge Gnabry starting three games in a 6 day period and scoring his first Premier League goal in the last of those games had the likes of Gervinho and Arshavin still been around.
The greatest genius lies in simplicity. Beane is proof of this. Wenger used to be proof of this. If his philosophy continues to resemble Beane’s, he might just rediscover the touch that made him the greatest foreigner in British football whilst shutting up those naysayers who have turned him into a punch line.
Thierry Henry presents: the finest moments of his career. Perfect.