Archive for June, 2011

Why the inevitable decimation of Porto’s team is an all too familiar story

“Where there’s a carcass, there will be vultures”

The story is one you’ll recognise. An upstart team with some promising players makes an impression and quickly becomes ravaged by the circling behemoths. If you don’t have money, if you don’t have power, if you don’t have prestige, it’s only a matter of time before Europe’s elite ruthlessly come knocking. If you can’t beat them, buy everything they possess.

The impression that F.C. Porto made last year was always likely to pique the interests of the vultures.  They secured a treble and went unbeaten in the league, smashing multiple records in the process. They had a young, bright manager, a talented squad and a real chance of winning next year’s Champions League. Then Chelsea came knocking and the door predictably opened.

Porto know the price of success all too well. They were the last major surprise winners of the Champions League when in 2004, José Mourinho team’s dispatched Monaco with consummate ease. His starting line up had ten Portuguese players and although most were acquired, it was a reflection of the country’s strength at the time. But Roman Abramovich and Chelsea’s millions soon plucked Porto’s ripest elements, starting with Mourinho himself.

Will Porto have to rebuild once more?

Of Porto’s line up that evening, Paulo Ferreira, Pedro Mendes, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho soon followed Mourinho out of the door. Maniche and Costinha lasted 12 more months, Derlei slightly less, Carlos Alberto slightly longer. It was a similar story for Monaco. Fernando Morientes, Jérôme Rothen, Ludovic Giuly, Édouard Cissé, Hugo Ibarra and Dado Pršo all played that night and didn’t return for the next season.

The Valencia squad which reached back-to-back Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001 was also picked apart, bit by bit. After reaching the first, promising midfielders Javier Farinós and Gerard went to Inter and Barcelona respectively. They were also unable to keep hold of Claudio López, the Argentine moving to, at the time, big spending Lazio. After the next final two more important cogs were displaced. Manager Héctor Cúper was snapped up by Inter and the much sought after Gaizka Mendieta joined Lazio.

Valencia’s financial problems have been well documented but they managed to win the next two La Ligas and the 2004 UEFA Cup under Rafa Benítez. Had Valencia kept that squad together, the landscape of La Liga may look very different today.  

Other back-to-back finalists Ajax suffered a similar dissection. The squad which won in 1995 immediately lost Michael Reiziger to Milan and Clarence Seedorf to Sampdoria to add to Frank Rijkaard’s retirement. But it took another 12 months for them to lose the core of that side.

After the 1996 final, when Ajax were beaten by Juventus on penalties, Winston Bogarde, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Nwankwo Kanu swapped Amsterdam for Milan, Kanu to Inter, the others to A.C. Milan. Finidi George opted for Spain and Real Betis and Marc Overmars, who missed the final through injury, showed up at Arsenal. Manager Louis van Gaal went to Barcelona just 12 months later. Three years after the final, none of 1996’s starting line-up, including Edwin van der Sar, the de Boers and Jari Litmanen, remained.

Ajax’s golden generation flew from the nest and they’ve never returned to the heights of that period in the mid-90s. Europe was surely theirs for the taking had that generation stayed together.

As Porto are about to prove, it’s not just Champions League finalists who are vulnerable to the bigger vultures. The excitement around the Zenit St. Petersburg team who lit up the 2008 UEFA Cup was soon curbed after key figures Andrei Arshavin, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Pavel Pogrebnyak left Russia within 12 months.

To a lesser extent Marseille, who reached the 2004 final, lost their impetus when Mathieu Flamini and Didier Drogba came to the Premier League. Alaves, who enthralled us all with a magnificent final against Liverpool back in 2001, soon lost their lynchpins Javi Moreno and Cosmin Contra to Milan.

The Parma side that won the 1999 UEFA Cup would surely have gone on to compete for major honours for many years had they remained together. Playing for them that night were Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro, Roberto Sensini, Juan Sebastián Verón, Enrico Chiesa and Hernán Crespo. Sensini, Chiesa and Verón then all left and Crespo followed them the following summer, all four joining other Italian clubs. Buffon and Thuram went in 2001 before Fabio Cannavaro departed in 2003, again staying within Serie A. Unlike those involved in the Zenit and Ajax exoduses, these were not prompted by players wishing to join more established footballing leagues. Parma competed in the Champions League in 2000 so for those who initially fled, it can’t have been motivated by wanting to play at a higher level either.

For this Porto squad, who towards the end of last year looked every bit as good as every other European side, the horse bolted when Villas-Boas wound up in West London last week.

Had this Porto side stuck together, Villas-Boas, backroom staff and all, who is to say they wouldn’t have replicated Mourinho’s achievements in 2004 and followed up a UEFA Cup (now Europa League) title with club football’s grandest prize? As it is, Villas-Boas’ exit is likely to scupper any hopes of that.

The 33-year-old has his knife out and is feasting away at the Porto carcass. He’s already picked off the grisly bits, acquiring backroom staff members and now the meatier sections of Radamel Falcao, João Moutinho and Hulk are primed to be ripped off.

So instead Porto will be forced to rebuild, albeit with the coffers substantially boosted, and we will be robbed off seeing a new, exciting force try to smash the Champions League monopoly which has seen the same final repeated in the last three years. It’s all rather depressing really.


Average age of NFL head coaches

June 23, 2011 1 comment

I did some background research on an article about Andre Villas-Boas’ age. Here are the ages of NFL head coaches, the average age is 50.41. Those who have won a Super Bowl have a (*) next to their names

Tom Coughlin – 64 (*)

Chan Gailey – 59

Bill Belichick – 59 (*)

Norv Turner – 59

Pete Carroll – 59

Mike Shanahan – 58 (*)

Jim Caldwell – 56

John Fox – 56

Andy Reid – 53

Lovie Smith – 53

Leslie Frazier – 52

Mike Smith – 52

Marvin Lewis – 52

Mike Munchak – 51

Steve Spagnuolo – 51

Ron Rivera – 49

Ken Whisenhunt – 49

Gary Kubiak – 49

Tony Sparano – 49

Jack Del Rio – 48

Jon Harbaugh – 48

Rex Ryan – 48

Mike McCarthy – 47 (*)

Jim Harbaugh – 47

Sean Payton – 47 (*)

Pat Shurmur – 46

Jason Garrett – 45

Jim Schwartz – 45

Hue Jackson – 45

Todd Haley – 44

Mike Tomlin – 39 (*)

Raheem Morris – 34


Categories: American Football

Average age of Premier League managers

I did some background research on an article about Andre Villas-Boas’ age. Here are the ages of Premier League managers, the average age is 51.34.

Sir Alex Ferguson – 69

Harry Redknapp – 64

Roy Hodgson – 63

Neil Warnock – 62

Arsene Wenger – 61

Kenny Daglish – 60

Martin Jol – 55

Tony Pulis – 53

Alex McLeish – 52

Mick McCarthy – 52

Steve Bruce – 50

Alan Pardew – 49

David Moyes – 48

Roberto Mancini – 46

Owen Coyle – 44

Steve Kean – 43

Paul Lambert – 41

Brendan Rodgers – 38

Roberto Martinez – 37

Andre Villas-Boas – 33


Categories: Football

Why André Villas-Boas’ age won’t hamper his job at Chelsea, it may even help

June 23, 2011 2 comments

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it”

Wisdom, it is suggested, comes with age. It is therefore not surprising that next year the average age of a Premier League manager will be 51. The newest addition has dragged that average down significantly. Chelsea’s new boss André Villas-Boas is just 33 years old. When he entered this world, the Premier League’s eldest statesman Sir Alex Ferguson was managing St Mirren at 35.

Wisdom may come with age but more importantly it comes with experience and Villas-Boas already has 16 years experience in this managerial game. He took his first UEFA coaching badge at 17. This isn’t an ex player dipping a tentative toe in one of club management’s biggest pools. This is a confident, assured man who possesses a football brain that bellies his tender years.

So Villas-Boas’ age shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, if you look at this Chelsea team, it may even be beneficial.

Villas-Boas can relate to his players

Whilst Carlo Ancelotti and Guus Hiddink enjoyed success, other experienced hands, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Avram Grant, struggled to control a difficult group of players with enormous egos. The last man who truly knew how to get the best out of this group of Chelsea players was a certain José Mourinho and one of the reasons for this was that he understood them. Comparisons between Mourinho and Villas-Boas are somewhat inevitable if not lazy and tedious. Their approaches to the game vastly differ but the important thing to note is that both were young when they made the move from Porto to Chelsea. 

Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes said Mourinho’s age was paramount to his success as it “means he speaks the same language as the players”. He was just 41 when he joined Chelsea but players enjoy playing for him and as a result they give their all every time he sends them out to play. It was under Mourinho that we saw the best of Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. They are now Chelsea’s oldest outfield players and are the same age as Villas-Boas.

Some may think Villas-Boas’ age will work against him. They will point to Lampard and Drogba and they will question whether he can command their respect. But it’s a short-sighted view which completely overlooks the fact that his age makes him more likely to understand his group of players. The trimmings of modern football continue to perplex most but like his players, it is all Villas-Boas has known.

The NFL provides a couple of interesting examples of younger head coaches. The first, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl when he triumphed in 2009, aged just 36.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s what you know. To me, it’s like he’s been a head coach for 20 years,” said tackle Flozell Adams.

And if Villas-Boas is looking for advice, he should consider these words from Hines Ward on Tomlin’s induction:

“They don’t give you a book to show you how to be a head coach. When he first got here, there were some veteran guys that challenged his authority, and they’re no longer here.”

Raheem Morris, head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is the league’s youngest coach at 34 and he began coaching at 22. Morris is intriguing because his team currently ranks as the second youngest in the league. Last year, with a team littered full of rookies, he narrowly missed out on the play-offs.

Hiring youthful minds is a trend that the league moved towards after Tomlin’s Super Bowl victory but it has since moved away from it. In recent years the departures of Josh McDaniels, Mike Singletary, Tom Cable, Jim Mora, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel have raised the average age.

That figure now stands at 50, surprisingly close to that of the Premier League.

But age is primarily just a number. Villas-Boas has the experience; he has the credentials to succeed at Chelsea. He has the chance to relate to players in the same way Mourinho did before him and the same way Mike Tomlin did in Pittsburgh. Don’t be deterred by his age.

Why the NFL’s Rich Eisen is sport’s best anchor

June 1, 2011 1 comment

“I passionately believe that’s it’s not just what you say that counts, it’s also how you say it – that the success of your argument critically depends on your manner of presenting it”

The Premier League season has concluded and the NFL’s off-season remains stagnant due to the lockout. So this seems a perfect opportunity to pen an ode to the best broadcaster sport has to offer, NFL Network’s Rich Eisen.  

The position of anchor is not one which instantly suggest respect. Richard Keys was a constant source of derision and frustration with football fans and despite becoming synonymous with a generation’s television coverage, he is missed by few.

Adrian Chiles was lauded on Match of the Day 2 but his distinctive style hasn’t translated as well on ITV whilst Colin Murray remains the nearest thing to Marmite that television has.

Eisen completes his annual 40 yard dash

In other sports, anchors such as Mark Nicholas, John Inverdale and Hazel Irvine tend to transcend opinion.

It’s a thankless task. With the exception of Nicholas, they are not reared on the diet of their sport like the analysts. Armchair viewers are therefore perhaps inclined to shun their views. They are there to entertain, to inform and to engage. They must present but in debates they must also raise pertinent issues, the questions which every viewer will want answering.

But Eisen has the innate ability to captivate all viewers. It doesn’t matter if he is speaking with players, owners or with his analysts; Eisen gets the best out of the situation. What’s more he makes it fun.

Take this clip from a few weeks back when Rich put Steve Johnson’s “swag” bag on. Can you imagine Chiles, Murray or Keys donning a snood or an Alice band without causing an earthquake from the nation’s collective shuddering?

Then there is this, the annual 40-yard dash where Eisen opens himself up for ridicule by competing against the NFL Draft’s top prospective talents. It is not the type of thing which Richard Keys’ ego would ever have sanctioned whilst he was in the hot seat. Yet it is exactly the type of thing which endears Eisen to his audience.

And because he’s respected and well-liked, off-the-cuff comments which could be construed as smarmy actually come across in the humorous manner they were intended. Take this little back and forth between Eisen and New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez last week.

Eisen: “How attuned are you to the labour negotiations?”

Sanchez “There’s a lot of legal jargon…”

Eisen: “But you rely on Cromartie to figure that one out for you right?”

Cue laughter from a clearly tickled Sanchez. The reference, for those of you who didn’t know, relates to Sanchez’s teammate Antonio Cromartie, a man who is accustomed to the inner workings of a court room due to fathering nine children with eight women in six states.

Would the same response have been elicited from a Ryan Giggs or a Frank Lampard had Keys made a similar cheap shot at Wayne Rooney or Ashley Cole? Highly unlikely. Perhaps that’s the strong upper lips we Brits possess or perhaps it’s just part of Eisen’s appeal.

The bold, brash world of American football is no place for the States’ answer to Alan Shearer. Monotonous, beige and lifeless characters will soon be dwarfed by the larger than life figures that are egotistical.

British viewers may find Robbie Savage less than palatable but he is merely a drop in the ocean of irritation compared to Deon “Primetime” Sanders.

Yet what Sanders fails to acknowledge is that without trying to throw himself in front of the cameras, Eisen easily steals the show.

There are plenty of broadcasters in all sports who could learn how to entertain, inform and engage in the way Rich Eisen does.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.