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Premier League Fantasy Picks: Week Five

September 15, 2011 2 comments

Bank on him…

Stoke have conceded just once in the league in four games this season. The heart of that defence and club captain Ryan Shawcross (£5.1m) has always been a strong fantasy option due to Stoke’s stern back-line. The Potters are usually unbreakable at the Britannia Stadium and have kept clean-sheets against Chelsea and Liverpool this year.

But even with him playing away from fortress Britannia on Saturday, there is more than a strong possibility of them keeping Sunderland at bay. Steve Bruce’s men are yet to win this season and have not recorded a victory in-front of their home fans since April. The exciting Asamoah Gyan departed last week, and Sunderland have managed just two goals this season.

Roll the dice…

Martin Petrov (£5.7m) is the only player who costs less than £6 million to have recorded over 15 points. He was inspirational at times when arriving in the league for Manchester City but the multi-million pound revolution was bound to come at the expense of some, and Petrov was one of the unfortunate ones. City’s loss was Bolton’s gain. The Bulgarian left winger wasn’t always on song during his first season at the Reebok but this season he has been rejuvenated. He already has three assists and with a left foot capable of delivering devastating left foot bombs, he could be a decent option, particularly given Bolton’s opponents this week – Norwich.

One to avoid…

Even given Everton’s less than stellar beginning to this season, a home fixture against Wigan looks particularly appetising. Leighton Baines (£8.0m), a prime piece of real estate, and the undervalued Leon Osman (£6.9m) have predictably started well and could be amongst the points when Baines’ former employers visit Goodison Park. But the forthcoming fixture list is very difficult for Everton. After Wigan they travel to free-scoring Manchester City, then face Liverpool in the derby before visiting the slowly-improving Chelsea and Fulham (who are difficult to beat at Craven Cottage) before Manchester United visit Goodison. Sometimes it pays to look into the near future.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn

Should football adopt the Rooney Rule?

September 11, 2011 Leave a comment

“The Rooney Rule is doing a good job. It’s a nice process, but it does not necessarily mean a commitment to diversity. I think there’s a difference. Right now this is working, but there’s still some pitfalls”

There has been a clamour from various parties this week, including PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor, to install a ‘Rooney Rule’ into football, requiring clubs to interview ethnic minority candidates for vacant managerial positions.

The Rooney Rule was devised in the NFL in 2003 by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney after pressure from various groups for franchises to address the small number of minority head coaches.

Smith and Dungy at Super Bowl XLIV

It has been painted this week as a failsafe method. Yes, there are more minority head coaches in the NFL now (Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell, Ron Rivera, Leslie Frazier, Marvin Lewis, Raheem Morris and Hue Jackson) when there were just two at the time of the rule’s implementation. They have also proved their worth (three of those eight head coaches have reached Super Bowls and five of the last 10 participants in the Super Bowl were coached by minority head coaches). But the truth is that the rule does have its drawbacks.

Take for example the only time a team has ever been fined for flaunting the rule.

In 2003, the Detroit Lions were fined $200,000 by the NFL for not complying with the Rooney Rule after the league accused them of hiring Steve Mariucci without interviewing any minority candidates. The Lions stressed that five potential minority candidates refused to be interviewed, citing that Mariucci’s hiring was a foregone conclusion.

The Lions had settled on their man but were bound by the rule to go through the motions of interviewing a minority candidate. As Brian W Collins (an author who actually concludes that the Rooney Rule is a positive thing) points out in the New York University Law Review:

“In forcing teams that have essentially already selected their new head coaches to conduct these interviews, the NFL seems to support – and perhaps mandate – the demeaning phenomenon of tokenism. Instead of being taken seriously, these token candidates are ‘likely to become future pawns, cast out in front of the media as legitimate possibilities’ when in reality they are merely ‘compliance candidates’.”  

Since Collins’ article was published, Leslie Frazier may well have fulfilled the role of ‘pawn’ and ‘compliance candidate’ which he alluded to. Frazier, who was given the Minnesota Vikings head coaching role last year, went to interview for vacant positions at the Rams, Broncos, Lions, Dolphins, Falcons and Seahawks. The latter was accused of simply placating the league as they’d already made their mind up on USC coach Pete Carroll.

Tony Dungy, the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl, believed that the Rooney Rule gave Frazier opportunities to interview for positions he would perhaps not have had.

“Even in cases where you don’t get the job, I know Leslie interviewed with the Dolphins and know Bill Parcells came away impressed and told other people how impressed he was, and he is a sharp guy and that helps.”

That in itself cannot be disputed. It is probably unlikely that pre-Rooney Rule Frazier would have had seven interviews for heading coaching jobs.

But why was Frazier turned down for six positions? Was it because he was not good enough or was it because the franchises were made to interview a minority candidate? Only time will tell if Frazier turns out to be an elite head coach but it is worrying he was interviewed six times before getting a big break, and that was with the franchise which knew him well and needed a quick fix (he was defensive co-ordinator in Minnesota and was hired midway through last season, initially on a caretaker style basis).

It may be that the six franchises didn’t think Frazier was good enough to be a head coach. But it may be that they had decided upon whom they were going to hire and that Frazier was merely interviewing so they could fit the criteria with regards to the Rooney Rule. If it is the latter, that is simply not fair on the candidate.

There is no question that the current situation, with only two black league managers from the 92 league clubs (Chris Hughton and Chris Powell), is not representative of today’s game (with more than 25% of players in the league being black).

But to look at the Rooney Rule as though it is the definitive answer is wrong. Does somebody like Paul Ince really want to travel up and down the country to every possible managerial vacancy in the top three tiers of English football just to appease formalities?

“That is not what the Rooney Rule is supposed to be, (that) you make up your mind and then interview a candidate for it anyway just to satisfy the rule,” said Dungy.

But that situation seems unavoidable in certain instances. Take Glasgow Rangers for example where Ally McCoist had long been groomed as the successor to Walter Smith. If the Rooney Rule was implemented then a minority candidate would have had to interview for the position this summer when Smith retired, despite the fact that McCoist would have been virtually assured of the position.

Perhaps such problems are inescapable and they may be necessary evils if it gets more minority candidates managerial positions.

The idea is to change the culture, for boardrooms to entertain the idea of hiring minority candidates, something which sadly they seem to have avoided thus far. There needs to be a spark from somewhere for that to happen and perhaps the Rooney Rule would kick-start it. But the idea is far from perfect and it does have its drawbacks.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn

 

Premier League Fantasy Picks: Week Four

September 9, 2011 1 comment

Bank on him…

Whether the signings and the returning figures will turn Arsenal into a title winning force remains to be seen, but that coupled with the international break, should at least provide the Gunners with a fresh slate this weekend. Picking an Arsenal player after the 8-2 loss would have seemed foolish but two weeks later, with a deadline day sandwiched in-between, it seems an incredibly long time ago. Winless Swansea arrive at the Emirates as lambs to the slaughter. The ‘new look’ Arsenal should run out easy winners and Robin van Persie (£11.9m) could run amok. It may be some time before Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun bed in properly and with Jack Wilshere out, Arsenal have plenty of concerns. But there’s a sense that, like Blackpool last year, Swansea are just too naïve to withstand the inevitable wave after wave of Arsenal attack at the Emirates.

Van Persie has netted six in his last four games

One to avoid…

Ali Al-Habsi is a popular fantasy choice. He’s relatively cheap (£4.5m) and quietly goes about his business effectively (although he will want to forget his error on the opening day). He also has back-to-back clean-sheets to highlight just how worthwhile he can be. However just like last week, when I warned against Brad Friedel, Al-Habsi needs to be benched given his tough match-up with Manchester City. They have so much attacking intent and so many ways to score goals that he is in serious danger of ending up with minus points.

But, do be weary of selecting specific Manchester City players given that they begin Champions League life with a tricky test versus Napoli on Wednesday. Manager Roberto Mancini will have more than one eye on that game and that could force his hand when selecting his team against Wigan. Given their impressive form of late, the obvious selections would be Edin Džeko, Sergio Agüero and Samir Nasri but Mancini has two large egos in Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tévez to appease. Giving them a run out against lowly Wigan may prove to be a sensible decision.

Roll the dice…

Joey Barton (£5.9m) loves being in the headlines. Whether it is through Twitter rants tinged with philosophical musings, digs at Match of the Day pundits or simply falling down after being slapped by a man with absurd hair, Barton is always in the spotlight. There will be no chance of that subsiding now he’s joined QPR given the baptism of fire he will face against former club Newcastle. There’s a story to be written and you can bet Barton intends on playing a prominent role in the plot. That may well be a red card and it may be a marvellous performance rounded off with the opening goal (14-1 on Paddy Power, by the way). Either way, Barton is unlikely to remain under the radar at Loftus Road, his selection would be a true gamble but one which may reap dividends.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

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