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Premier League’s alternative Team of the Year

April 18, 2011 4 comments

“I’d rather be the underdogs. I’d rather people not know my name when I come out and do this stuff. Then they’ll say ‘Who was that?’”

Yesterday the PFA Team of the Year was announced. Whilst the team conjured up is an acknowledgement of the very best, this Premier League season has featured plenty of underdogs coming to the fore. The PFA Team of the Year consists entirely of players the league’s top five clubs. This alternative team doesn’t feature any players from those teams. Furthermore, those who’ve received plenty of praise, such as Charlie Adam, Scott Parker, Andy Carroll and Leighton Baines, are excluded. So here are the unsung heroes, those who’ve quietly impressed:

Goalkeeper: Ben Foster (Birmingham City)

This season could have gone very differently for Ben Foster. He may have continued to play understudy to Edwin Van der Sar before being passed the baton at Manchester United this August. Instead, Foster opted for Birmingham City. The Midlands club have had a difficult year in the league but Foster has slotted in well behind Alex McLeish’s typically sturdy defence. He was also pivotal to Birmingham’s Carling Cup success.

Huth and Foster have impressed in league and cup

Left Back: José Enrique (Newcastle United)

José Enrique has been virtually ever-present in Newcastle’s team this year and has featured in every one of their eight clean sheets. Newcastle have had plenty of defensive troubles over the year but they seem to have found a very solid full-back in José Enrique. That may be about to change though as his name continues to be heavily linked with a move to Anfield this summer.

Centre Back: Robert Huth (Stoke City)

Huth may not be a popular player but he has excelled at Stoke this year. They’ve garnered a reputation as a difficult team to score against ever since they won promotion and Huth has enhanced their status. But he has also proved a legitimate threat at the other end of the pitch too. Huth’s bagged six goals in the league making him Stoke’s joint highest scorer.

Centre Back: Gary Cahill (Bolton Wanderers)

Speak to those who regularly go to the Reebok this year and they’ll tell you how good Cahill has been. Owen Coyle has transformed the ethos of Bolton Wanderers and the classy Cahill has flourished in the new style. He started the season with his first England cap and has ended it with his first England start. Expect him to remain very much in Fabio Capello’s thoughts in the future.

Right Back: Stephen Carr (Birmingham City)

Stephen Carr’s played in every minute of the nine clean sheets Birmingham have forged out. In fact, Carr has only missed 47 of the 2880 minutes Birmingham have played this year. Not bad for a 34-year-old man who announced his retirement in 2008. He has been somewhat of an unsung hero but pundits rightly cooed over his Carling Cup final performance against Arsenal.

Left Wing: Matthew Etherington (Stoke City)

It must be hard for a crafty, clever midfield technician to shine at Stoke City but Etherington continues to impress. Stoke’s long, missile balls can often bypass their midfield but Etherington does plenty of good work from wide positions. He remains a vital cog for Stoke with his deliveries from corners and free-kicks. Matt Jarvis could also be considered for this position after a bright season at Wolves.

Centre Midfield: Kevin Nolan (Newcastle United)

Last year Nolan was award the Championship Player of the Year award and he’s carried that form with him as Newcastle look set to cement their Premier League status. He’s helped himself to 12 league goals making him the division’s highest scoring midfielder. Newcastle have recorded several goal gluts and Nolan has been inspired in all of them. His finest hour was a hat-trick in the 5-0 drubbing of local rivals Sunderland. Honourable mentions for this position must go to Nolan’s Newcastle teammates Joey Barton and Chiek Tioté.

Centre Midfield: Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)

Lucas was derided for so long by football fans in this country but his turnaround this year has been magnificent. Finally we’ve started to see why he has merited inclusion for both Liverpool and Brazil. In a tough season for Liverpool, he has been their most consistent performer. Lucas saved his best performances for the bigger games with typically destructive outings in wins against Chelsea and Manchester United.

Right Wing: Clint Dempsey (Fulham)

This season was always going to be a dull one for Fulham after their heroics last year. An early injury to Bobby Zamora only confirmed that. But Dempsey has had a steady season which has gone largely under the radar. He’s weighed in with a respectable ten goals with only Kevin Nolan bagging more from midfield.

Forward: D.J. Campbell (Blackpool)

So many strikers have failed to make the colossal leap up to the top tier of football so reaching double figures for the season is a great achievement for Campbell. He had an unsuccessful crack at the big time before with Birmingham but looks to have found his feet at Blackpool. Campbell has scored against Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham proving he steps up against the league’s best.

Forward: Peter Odemwingie (West Bromwich Albion)

West Brom’s inability to stay in the Premier League in previous years had been blamed on the absence of a renowned goal scorer. In Peter Odemwingie, they now have a man to provide a finishing touch to their midfield guile. No side have scored more goals in the bottom half of the league. In his first season in English football, Odemwingie has bagged 12 goals and he also has eight assists. If West Brom stay up, he may be the signing of the season.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

Do you agree or disagree with my selections? Let me know in the comments section.

Transfer Deadline Day has Turned Into Contrived Hype

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment

“A perfect method for adding drama to life is to wait until the deadline looms large”

Another year, another deadline passes. In previous seasons the deadline day comings and goings of Ashley Cole, Wiliam Gallas, Robinho and Dimitar Berbatov have kept us all enthralled. But if one player summed up the rather tepid nature of yesterday’s deadline day it was Salif Diao.

On any other day, news of his return to Stoke City would be relegated to the lower depths of Premier League news. However, on deadline day the news was worthy of the eye-catching bright yellow ticker-tape and an exclusive interview.

Gudjohnsen was one of yesterday's big movers

For even if there is no action, the media contrived façade that is deadline day must try to live up to the hype. One of the bigger moves was Eidur Gudjohnsen’s arrival at Stoke City. The sight of Eidur Gudjohnsen and Tony Pulis together was apparently “absolutely extraordinary”. Gudjohnsen’s signing was a coup but lest we forget he spent time in the Championship with Bolton when he first arrived in this country. Yes he has played for two European giants but like Jenny from the block, he’s not forgotten where he came from. Elsewhere the rather excitable Sky Sports presenter Jim White was seen completely combusting when Franco Di Santo made another inevitable loan move back up north.

The truth is deadline day is failing to encapsulate the drama that it originally conjured up. We were all hooked when Dimitar Berbatov was held hostage by Fergie, when delirium kicked in at Eastlands and when Mark Hughes pretended that he was abreast of developments regarding Robinho. Since then, Benjani’s missed flight and Ryan Babel’s helicopter escapades aside, it’s all become rather dull and dreary despite the media’s best efforts.

There are plenty of reasons why deadline day is failing to live up to its hype. The season is already three weeks old, squads take time to blend and managers want to bed in new faces early. The 25 man squad rule has left managers needing to have a good idea of how their personnel will shape up. Clubs need to be astute rather than simply chopping and changing on deadline day (not including Harry “I’m not a wheeler-dealer” Redknapp). Prolonged pursuits like Berbatov’s can be cut short with a strong dose of petulance, as showed by Javier Mascherano. Then consider how many clubs seem to be less willing to part with money. Only Sunderland resorted to spending big to ensure a deal was made before the deadline. With their hand possibly being forced by the side-lined Frazier Campbell, they acquired Asamoah Gyan for a club record £13 million.

Previous deadline days have shocked and thrilled us

So it appears clubs have wised up when it comes to transfer windows. Leaving it to the last minute drives up prices as desperation kicks in. Deadline day is loaded with uncertainty for players too.

It is usually hard to feel too much pity for footballers. Doing what you love for a living and getting paid to do it creates little sympathy for the most part. But Rohan Ricketts’ tale of the uncertainity of deadline day is the other side of the coin as players face being jettisoned at a moment’s notice.

Meanwhile hype and hysteria will continue to grip White and his colleagues twice a year. But in truth clubs have failed to yield to the drama and excitement, in fact the last few have been rather mundane.

F.A. should heed Carragher’s words after Scholes’ masterclass

August 19, 2010 2 comments

“It looked to me as if the English have gone backwards into the bad old times of kick and rush”

Although he may have his detractors, Jamie Carragher is a very intelligent man and any interview with him is refreshingly candid. Last week he spoke with the Daily Mail about a variety of issues but the ones which were most intriguing were his thoughts on the state of the English game both at international level and at the grass-roots. The Liverpool defender believes the two are intertwined. He moans that at international level “there isn’t that spell of keeping the ball, just slowing the game down.” Then he points to the deficiencies of youth football in this country:

“My son is playing now and, the first thing in England is that you want your lad to get stuck in. Whereas a Spanish kid, you want him to be skilful.”

Carragher doesn't believe England keep the ball well enough

Beckenbauer’s ‘kick and rush’ comments may not have been wide of the mark after all. At the time, those within the England camp rubbished the claims but Carragher’s thoughts provide at least some evidence that the mentality in this country is way behind other nations.

It is not that England doesn’t produce players capable of carrying out Carragher’s wishes. If the F.A. wondered if the Scouser’s words should be taken onboard, they were left in little doubt when a certain Mancunian echoed Carragher’s sentiments with a masterful display last Monday night. Actions often speak louder than words and Paul Scholes’ performance against Newcastle was a delight to behold. It was a vintage display and a brilliant advert for maintaining possession, creating chances and completely controlling a football match. At the same time it was all very un-British.

The World Cup statistics show Carragher’s fears are founded. Looking at the pass completion percentages, England players don’t match-up well against other countries most notably the eventual champions Spain. England’s percentages, Frank Lampard 78%, Gareth Barry 75%, James Milner 65% and Steven Gerrard 64%, are pitiful when compared with their Spanish counterparts, Sergio Busquets 88%, Cesc Fàbregas 84%, Xabi Alonso 81% and Xavi 81%. Other major internationals have far more favourable stats too, Felipe Melo 90%, Gilberto Silva 86% and Javier Mascherano 80%. Even the more advanced players like Kaká 76%, Robinho 76% and Leo Messi 72% havefar better ball retention skills than England’s own Wayne Rooney 62%.

The only ‘major’ country who had similar stats to England was Germany, Bastian Schweinsteiger 76%, Sami Khedira 76% and Mesut Özil 71%. But consider that most of Germany’s goals and chances came from their electrifying counter attacks rather than prolonged build ups.

Paul Scholes didn’t travel to South Africa and his absence was clearly missed. As pointed out by Opta and on this Manchester United blog, Scholes was the Premier League’s most accurate passer with an 89.58% completion rate last year.

Scholes was the Premier League's most accurate passer last year

So when under intense pressure from an expectant media and fans, it seems the English players in South Africa did revert to type, the style Beckenbauer labelled ‘kick-and-rush’. Carragher himself acknowledged this:

“John Terry knocked it long to Emile Heskey into the box and I was thinking: ‘You wouldn’t have done that for Chelsea. You’d have passed it straight to Ashley Cole and just started playing again’.”

Certainly the players should know better. Enough of them play at the highest level to appreciate the importance of long periods of possession. But the system these players were brought up in is also flawed. The Spanish and the Germans have evolved but the English seem to be stuck in their traditional ways. Hard-tackling, lung busting midfielders are everywhere in England but we produce too few players of Scholes’ ilk.

Carragher’s comments this past week show that there is a concern among the professionals. Now the F.A. must look to rectify this at the very grass roots of the game.

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