Sunday, March 9, 2008

Arsene & Alex - Two peas of the same pod

This is one article I have been waiting to put to the blog, before these young players destroy the game of football that I and millions of others, absolutely adore and love with a passion we don't grant our loved ones.

My footballing knowledge stems way back in time, when there was 2 points for a win and no team wanted to be drawn away, against Millwall in the FA Cup. However my real love for football developed from watching Liverpool pass and move their way to Kings of Europe. In that time, I was blessed with two of the greatest manager's ever, in Bill Shankley and Bob Paisley. Their achievements and highlights have been extensively documented and with the power of football changing from the manager to the player's, it requires a special talent to mould, guide and nuture a squad of millionaires with ego's the size of the new Austin Martin they have parked on the driveway. Presently the premiership is blessed with two of the best managers in the game today, the other's being Carlo Ancelotti of AC Milan, Guus Hiddink of Russia and the Dutch twins of van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, but to have two in the premiership is a great achievement for English football and without them I am not sure Viera, Henry, Ballack, Essien and Torres would have the same impact under British Manager's like Bryan Robson, Gary Megson and Sam 'The Hit Man' Alladyce.

Alex Ferguson has been at the helm of Old Trafford for more than 20 years and Arsene Wenger has paraded over the young lambs at Highbury for nigh on 10 seasons. Both have attempted to play attractive attacking football regardless of the situation they find their team in or the pressure of fans and chairmen with short memories and the desire for trophies. I can count at least 3 different teams both managers have re-built, and 90% of the time, the outgoing hero has been replaced by a better player, no one but the manager could see. Time and time again they have both done this without disruption to the team, formula or harmony of the dressing room. This season alone, Nani and Anderson at Man U and Sagna, Bednter, Diaby and briefly Eduardo at Arsenal have made the fans forget past players and will have to admit the team is better balanced and in a better position to challenge for trophies than before. How I wish for this to be the case at Liverpool. We are still waiting for Harry Kewell and Pennant to deliver and they have been at Liverpool longer than the tea lady. It's all to do with the manager, as players are fickle and tempestuous and good man-management is the basis to getting teams to play good football on a consistent basis and both have this in abundance.

Very rarely would you hear of a scandal or story emerging from OT or Highbury, which hits the front pages rather than the back. How many times do we hear of a disgruntled player going to the gutter press to grieve his anger at being left out? Never. When was the last time you heard a Man U or Arsenal player suggest that he needed to leave to find better opportunites and first team football and slag off the manager? Again never. This is to do with the level of respect the manager and player's have towards one another. To me that is the key to managing a squad capable of challenging for the premiership never mind the champions league.

A huge concerning factor which poses a problem in football today is the fact that ex players, who played the game with love, passion and a desire, cannot relate to today’s modern players who are rested, out for 2 months with metatarsal and fibula injuries, unheard of 20 years ago, who appear to be going through the motions, until a new contract is on the table. They find it hard to motivate current players who earn 10 and 20 times they ever did and have better facilities, media and specialists, when they are only half the player. I mean look at Graeme Souness, Glenn Hoddle or Bryan Robson, world class players who were paid peanuts compared to today's 'Bently brigade'. They are an example, I could also include Alan Curbishly, Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Steve Coppell, the list runs into hundreds of top ex players unable to manage today's crop of young players, who have more hangers-on than a Christiano Ronaldo groupie. Today, not one premiership club has a reserve team, unheard of in the days of Brian Clough and Dave Sexton, so you have larger squads, with mediocre players, not being able to get into form or spend a month in the reserves working on their first touch or passing qualities. Therefore you have young squad players aged 21-23 being paid 1/2 to 3/4 million pounds a year to play in the League Cup and an end of season run out.

It takes a top manager to have the entire squad in harmony and focused on the goal at hand: Consistent performances, whether that is in the Premiership or Champions League. To get 20 - 25 players from various countries pulling in one direction is no small task, but could be made much easier by the nature and demands of the manger. The Manager is the key to the entire operation. If the manager display's weakness, players take advantage, a la Joey Barton, Stan Collymore, Gazza. The manager lays the standards and qualities of what is required from professional footballers. Because players have so much power today, you need to dangle a bigger carrot other than monetary gain and the promise of a first team place. Wenger & Ferguson are able to instill a level of confidence in players and are able to empathize in a way players respond to and trust. What I love about them both, is that one week you'll see a Man U or Arsenal player have a poor game, there is no chat on TV by Wenger or Ferguson, but you know they have noticed. Then the following game, you'll see that same player put in a performance, where you know the manager has pointed out specific things, whether that is concentration, awareness, passing, positioning etc... At my team Liverpool, players can have bad performance after bad performance, for like two months before you see a change and bad performance's have a cancerous spread throughout the team. Also they both remind the players of why they chose to become footballers from the outset. The dream when you are young to play the type of football, against the best teams and deliver. Those are the matches footballer's live and die for. AC Milan at home and getting the winner or Juve away and putting in a performance to be remembered. That’s what these managers instill in their players and heaven forbid when they have given up the dugout for the sofa. For it will be a procession of failed managers, informing all who will listen that they have the magic formula to turn things around. Crap manager's like Steve Bruce, Paul Jewell and Gareth Southgate changing from clubs to club, ruining player's careers and boring the fans with dire football and even worse tactics. Let's all hope that day is a long way off.


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