Why Mourinho was so eager to get rid of Mata in January.
The title race in England is tighter and contested by more clubs than it has been for a long time. 22 games in and it could still be argued 5 clubs are still in with a shot, and the top 3 are separated by 2 points.
Cynical commentators have tried to label United buying Mata a panic buy. But if Mourinho sold Mata at this point in the season due to the possibility of his presence in the United team taking 3 points from both Arsenal and Man City, I’d say this might have been more of a panic sale. The immediate comments of Wenger and Pellegrini clearly suggest they think Chelsea have broken some kind of convention of fair play here.
What would Chelsea have to lose? Well if they didn’t sell him, £37.1 million as it turned out. Mata is not part of Mourinho’s interests. Gaining £37.1 million while setting up the marginally higher chance of Man City and Arsenal dropping more points? Selling Mata at this moment could be Chelsea’s ace in the hole.
Or is the reason less cynical and slightly underhanded, and more…personal? Mourinho has a clear recent history of totalitarian treatment of players he even suspects are not in total and unyielding respect of him as a leader.
Mourinho’s time at Real Madrid was certainly, at least personally, the most unhappiest of his career. He was in constant war with the unimpressed Spanish media, and most notably, at war with his own players. Specifically, his incredibly popular Spanish players.
August 2011 and Mourinho did something that changed the course of his career. During a touchline brawl against Barcelona that started due to a wreckless, spiteful challenge by one of his own players on the debutant Cesc, he jammed his finger into an eye of Tito Vilanova, gauging Pep Guardiola’s assistant in front of the packed Nou Camp.
For many Madristas, including Iker Casillas, it brought shame on the institution of Real Madrid. So much so, the widely iconic and much loved Real Madrid captain Casillas thought it necessary to call one of his closest friends, Barca captain Xavi, after the incident to apologise, and try to build bridges.
Xavi’s father later revealed Mourinho took deep offence to Casillas’ attempt at a truce between the clubs. Casillas barely saw another game under Mourinho at Real Madrid.
Disaffected onlookers will claim Casillas’ form was shaky at the time anyway. Either way, the circumstances around Casillas’ removal, and his replacement by a completely ill-equipped Adan descended into farce in the eyes of fans. Adan was sent of in the 6th minute of Madrid’s first league game, Casillas was subbed on, and Mourinho was made to look a fool.
Mourinho’s claims that Adan was simply a better option for his team were further ridiculed when Casillas broke his finger and was ruled out for months. Mourinho, clearly not so confident in Adan as he had claimed, went out and brought in Diego Lopez for the rest of the season. Lopez as it turned out, showed himself to be more than capable deputy.
The whole saga created a huge split in the Madrid dressing room, with Sergio Ramos disrespecting Mourinho on the pitch (with his straight refusal to play where Mourinho asked him) and off (“Why did I disobey Jose? Because he has never been a footballer”).
It was claimed Mourinho had lost half of the dressing room (the Spanish half) at Madrid, even at times his relationship with Ronaldo was questioned.
Meanwhile, last year while on international duty with fellow teammates Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas (and Juan Mata), close friends, the popular and usually uncontroversial Andres Iniesta made this remark:
“You just have to look at the facts,” Iniesta said in an interview with El Pais. “Yes, he damaged Spanish football, in general more harm than good. But I don’t like talking about that person at all. So if you don’t mind we’ll leave it at that.”
The Spanish World Cup winning national team, of which Mata was and is apart of (32 caps 9 goals) is famously close-knit.
Mata too, of course, has history with the institution of Real Madrid, spending 4 years in their youth setup learning his trade.
There’s no evidence that Mata and Mourinho have had any direct difficulties, but it is clear, Mourinho seemed to decide he didn’t want Mata in his team even before pre-season had started, and before he had watched Mata kick a ball. Rumors of early attempts in July to offload the Spaniard were abound.
Does Mata’s Madrid history and close friendships with Mourinho’s arch-enemies represent some bad memory of a dark time for Mourinho? Is his totalitarian paranoia worried that, perhaps, deep down, Mata is not enthralled with the personality of Mourinho, not enraptured with his very being like so many of Mourinho’s successful players seem to be? How unlikely is it that to Mourinho’s mind, Mata, due to his strong allegiances, may even not care much for the Special One?
If so, and it seems likely, then Mourinho has done the right, and logical thing. Anyone would in his position. Mourinho is so keenly aware of dressing room dynamics, man-management, and the importance of his influence on his players. If Mourinho had doubts about the loyalty to him of Mata, he had no real choice but to sell him. He put his trust in other players from the start. The fact he was Chelsea’s best player of the best few seasons is just bad luck for Chelsea fans.
It’s often stated that because David Moyes has the same winning squad from last season, that it’s a good indicator for this season, that he is personally under performing. The team sitting as they do in 7th place, 20 games in.
As if the champion squad of players at his disposal should be the least of his problems.
As if if he can take a team that strolled the league to probably not qualifying for Champion’s League, that it clearly shows he’s out of his depth.
Yet a squad of winners is Moyes’ biggest dilemma.
Moyes entered a dressing room full of league winners and some Champion’s League winners. All they know is to win. All they listening to was a man who had only ever won. Winning trophies is the language of the dressing room at Old Trafford. Moyes entered this dressing room as a man who has won nothing.
Moyes’ biggest dilemma is telling these players how they should be doing things. To do it his way. Not their way. And not Ferguson’s way. Especially when things go wrong.
When things went wrong under Ferguson he had the unquestionable authority in all things winning to set them straight again. Everyone was waiting, listening for orders. Bad form never lasted long . Such was the trust in his standing, pressure was almost taken off player’s own minds, comfortable in the knowledge that with Ferguson leading ship, there’s no wave that can knock them down. Never has been.
You can imagine this part of man-management is incredibly difficult for Moyes at United. If they play a bad game, how comfortable does he feel reading the riot act, telling these players where they’re going wrong? And how much are these proven winners listening?
Manual Pellegrini had never won anything either with the 3 Spanish teams he coached before he arrived at Man City. But the huge difference here is he arrived to a team of losers. They struggled to compete with United over the season, only beating them on goal difference the year before, and went out of the Champion’s League with a whimper.
The City players, many unhappy under Mancini, were desperate for a new leader in the summer. The United players lost theirs.
And when things start going bad, maybe Moyes isn’t perceived as best placed to tell them what they’re doing wrong. There’s no question this is a United squad of complete professionals who have also been selected by the manager previous, largely due to their impeccable attitudes behind the scenes. There’s no real troublemakers for Moyes to deal with. But it won’t make his job any easier.
This isn’t the transition season for Man United. It’s the transition pre-season. The real transition season(s) is when he inevitably has to get rid of the Ferguson players and bring in his own.
Moyes has taken on a job unlike any other in the history of football. A club, squad, stadium and training ground still sweating from the double decade hedonism of the Ferguson years. His challenges are gigantic but his biggest one is of course his influence on the players. It will surely take years, and will also take a big trophy. The earlier the better.
The Untied ship is steady but the endless sea of Arabic and Russian money surrounding it is swelling stronger than ever. Moyes will need all hands on deck if he is to keep afloat.
Of all the diverse coaching methods of the great and greatest of football managers, there is one nexus they all seem to revolve around: keeping it simple. It is an immense desire that has been demonstrated from Clough to Cruyff, Busby to Del Bosque, and Herrera to Happel. The amount of abstruse coaching courses you left at the top of the class is of negligible importance. It is a fact that that has been proven throughout football history and is being proven in football’s present.
Managers today are often belittled if they do not have all their carefully regulated coaching qualifications in order, and whispers of condescension circulate about managers who are not deemed to be tactically assiduous. Cave dwelling, out of date, dragging their uncultured knuckles all their way from some bygone epoch across our new glistening pristine pitches. While plenty of hackneyed and humdrum managers certainly inhabit the game, their mediocrity certainly has nothing to do with their lack of interest in any prevailing puritanical tactical system.
Being an astute tactical mind is simply a prerequisite for a successful manager in competition, as is having your own successful and dynamic system of how to play the game. But does the most technically gifted musician equal the most inspirational, or effective? Picasso was able to paint with studious precision and technical brilliance, but he learned early on that was not the most effective way of expressing his ideas. Some of the greatest coaches may not have been putting on the most technically and tactically intricate training sessions, but the point is does it matter? The trophies prove that it doesn’t. In fact, their absence may tell us more about their brilliance than anything else.
Steve McManaman said that while he was at Real Madrid, Vicente del Bosque rarely, if ever, gave tactical talks, and didn’t speak to players after a game. He has won two Champions Leagues, a World Cup, and a European championship. How could such a modern coach, be so uninterested in explaining to his players tactical side of the game?
The reason is itself simple, there is something far more important to Del Bosque, and it was psychological simplicity. Unconditional trust in each other was del Bosque’s sacrament. An implicit belief in the player’s ability has been the hallmark of Spanish teams recent domination of football. To go one step further, it would seem not only were highly tactical coaching sessions avoided by most of the most successful managers, their absence begins to seem principle to their success.
The style of limited management, of ferocious silence, is a remarkable recurring theme in great managers. Bob Paisley was famously a man of little words to his players, but no one was in any doubt of his knowledge. Ernst Happel, Gunter Netzer explained, “Was able to tell you everything about the game, without ever speaking a word”. Alex Ferguson, like many managers, farmed out the technical side of training sessions to assistants, and kept his input to a minimum. He merely observed, and corrected. We are not simply talking about great motivators. There is no dichotomy of ‘tacticians or motivators’. It is far more than that. Like Johann Cruyff can’t stop telling people, it is about imparting a philosophy. That philosophy can be one of many things, but it must be simple. “Nothing is more difficult that playing simple football”, he said.
Even Arsene Wenger, LeProfesseur, who has produced teams that have gone a full season unbeaten, and revolutionised how the game is played in England, has been accused of not being “hands-on” enough during training. Wenger spoke once at an LMA ceremony about how he believed growing up in a pub in France, listening and observing how adults treated each other from a young age, was the crucial factor in his success as a manager. He said he also learned all about tactics this way too, but it was clear which one he found more important. Yet his perceived lack of direct coaching has been jumped on as a fatal flaw in the manager by fans, pundits and media when things don’t go well for Arsenal. Ferguson has endured similar whispers. This is such a grand misreading of the reasons for their success.
To even more modern times, the current crop of impressive upcoming coaches shows no bucking of historical trends. The likes of Conte, Klopp and Simeone all display familiar famous traits. The psychology of successful man-management doesn’t change.
Dortmund’s charismatic leader Jurgen Klopp is renowned for his extraordinary man management skills, funnelling his enthusiasm and sagacity effectively into his team’s play. The bond he builds with players is unique. Klopp’s training methods are often far from technical, focusing more on unusual psychological strengthening methods. Yet most talked about, most commented on in post game analysis, is the tactical side of Dortmund’s play. As if the secret to their success is hidden on the dressing room white board. Klopp’s teams play simple, clearly outlined football. It’s not a success of tactics. Klopp achieves his simple strategic aims by the types of players he selects; and above all else, Klopp places an emphasis on team spirit. He shares this trait with World Cup winner Marcelo Lippi, ‘The most important trait of his management’, Italian football expert James Horncastle said on Lippi, ‘is his ability to forge a team spirit.’ Tactics seem merely collateral.
Pep Guardiola, the Catalan architect of possibly the best club side of all time, and a vaunted creative student of the game fitted perfectly into the Barça philosophy of keeping it simple (tika-taka). By focusing on basic skill development and total discipline, he simply continued on the path laid down by Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels before him. Much time is spent analysing the Barcelona tactical method, yet when Xavi was asked what is their training secret, he replied “It’s all about rondos [piggy in the middle]. Rondo, rondo, rondo. Every. Single. Day. It’s the best exercise there is.” It doesn’t get any simpler as a coaching method than that.
You had a responsibility! You betrayed me and the Order by your actions. And your inability to see that troubles me the worst of all. -Obi-Wan Kenobi
Be mindful of your thoughts Anakin. They’ll betray you. -Obi-Wan Kenobi
Yoda:Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice. Luke: Vader… Is the dark side stronger? Yoda: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.
Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it’s a better cow than the one you’ve got in your own field. It’s a fact. Right? And it never really works out that way. -Sir Alex Ferguson.
Both noted for their exceptional talents/force from a much younger than usual age. Rooney youngest ever England goalscorer, Anakin youngest ever winner of the Boonta Eve Classic podrace and youngest Jedi council member.
Both from difficult, often troubled social backgrounds.
Both predicted to be the “chosen one” while many casting doubts on their temperament for the future.
Both noted for being more emotional than intelligent, both having impulsive emotions that could quickly boil over and cause them to make rash decisions.
Both married childhood, er, sweethearts.
Both left their home (fairly reluctantly) under a cloud from their previous ‘employers’.
Both eventually taken under the guidance of a well known and widely respected old master for training (Obi-Wan Kenobi, Sir Alex Ferguson).
Both had fractious, heated, troublesome but committed relationships with their masters.
Both ended up feeling resentment towards their masters and their masters’, er, order.
Both felt that their masters were often holding them back.
Both in anger accused their masters of betraying them.
Both ended up feeling they had gone as far as they could with their current order.
ENTER SENATOR PALPATINE/DARTH SIDIOUS/PAUL STRETFORD
Both had a friendship with a mistrusted figure in the background, whose intentions their masters had warned them of.
Both felt strong feelings of attachment and responsibility to this shadowy well known as deceitful figure.
Both had this devious and self-serving figure telling them they must leave their old masters to truly fulfill their potential.
Both accused of being brainwashed, controlled, and manipulated by this figure.
Eventually, Anakin’s evil figure in the background won the battle for his mind, and his old master, Obi-Wan, retired and retreated away into the background himself.
This article is mostdevotedly concerned with the moral aspect of diving in football, and I will come to that further down, but first it’s crucial toexaminesome moreconstituentmatterstowards foulsandtacklinginfootball.
"People keep saying I’m diving, but if there’s contact it’s not diving. Referees need to look more closely."
”If there’s contact, it’s a penalty or free-kick. There’s nothing I can do. “
FIFA: "For any kick, trip, push, strike we must consider how careless, reckless and whether excessive force was used”
"Careless means that the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making his challenge, or that he acted without precaution”
"Reckless means that the player has acted withcomplete disregardof the danger to his opponent”
"Excessive force means the player has far exceeded necessary use offorce andis indanger of injuring his opponent”
The word “contact” is never used. That’s because in football, you cannot make a tackle without making some contact with the opponent. The idea permeating footballspeaknow that if there “is contact” it’sa green light todive issimply hideous.
I want to move away from thismore asinine debateabout the amount of contact that is allowed in a tackle. Because for me it’s clear. It’s common to hear punditsor players commentthus:
"Whenmoving at a high speed, any touch isenough to throw you off balance”
That is a fair point. But it’s nota fair point to use when a player has chosentothrow his body tothe floor when he’s moving at high speed because he felt a touch from the opponent, because that’sOK when you’removing at high speed. It is not. The plain fact is, you should only be lying on the floor, if thecontacthasphysicallycaused you to be there. Anything else, is cheating. The referee must make the judgement on a careless or reckless tackle - not the player. If referees are not doing that correctly, that needs to be analysed. It simply should not be up to the player to “win” a free kick. That is not in the laws of the game.
And what oftheopponent, trying to make an honest tackle on a player moving at high speed? It’s not against the rules of the game to attempt to win the ball from players moving at high speed, in fact by most schools, funnily enough,it’s encouraged. That’s because moving at high speeds doesn’t immunize yourself from being tackled. An opponent making a challenge on a fast-moving player is of course possibly more likely to trip them up. And if they do trip them up - that’s fine, they lost the battle of skill.Making challenges onfast-moving players is difficult- that’s the good thing about fast players.
But here’s the crutch - it isnot"careless" to make a tackle on a player at high speed - it’s perfectly within the laws. You’re more likely to make a foul, that’s for granted, but is it careless to attempt to tackle a fastplayer? Of course not.
The problem is, the attacker is given far more assistance than the defender.The zeitgeistat the moment is that it isquite simply “careless” by default to attempt to tackle a fast player - and if you make contact with them, that’s simply you’re own fault. It’s basically making attacking players untouchable. Yet it isclearly not what the rule book of the game says.
Defenders of course prefer to use precaution and not to jump into tackles with fast players, but there comes a time when a defender is sometimes requiredto make atackle - there is no other option.The act of doing so is not in itself careless- and is therefore not a foul - unless thetackler hasshown “aclear lack of attention or consideration”(this also brings up the absurdity of the lawof “last man”being automatic red cards, an odious rule that shouldnot be applied across the board on defenders that are clearly within their rights to try and, you know, defend). You cannot accuse a defender, when he is going for the balland not the man of being in the wrong. If he doesn’t win the ball, or if he also brings down the player before the ball - then it’s a foul. It’s quite simple.
But flying attackerslike Balesee itdifferently these days.
To Bale and many others, a defender is not allowed to “make contact”, and if they “feel contact”, they are well within their poorly perceived rights to splay out their limbs, and fling themselves to the canvas, belly first. It’s completely wrong, morally and ethically bereft way of treating your fellow professionals. We all know a defender will sometimes take down, take out, or foul a playerwith a bad tackle. But if it’s a bad tackle - it should not need a replay. It will be clear at the moment, that the defender hasbeen reckless or careless, and the attacker has been unable to hold his balance.
This is where I ammost adamant - ifyou are able to keep your balance, then you should do so. This is where the moralsplit is in modern football.And it is this point, that I feel most strongly about.
Which brings me onto the morality of it all.
It was not always the case. That may seem odd to anyone bornafter acertain date, but not so long ago, even in Premier League football, it simply was a complete taboo in England to throwbody to the ground if you could have stayed on your feet.And I believe, strongly,that for all the faults of the English game, that this was it’s strongest marker. Of course therewereother things that were morally questionable in English football, but at least cheating your opponent in this way wasn’t one of them. Holding up human values against deceit was big plus point for English football, and many of the first wave of foreign players in the Premier League often commented how commendable it was. Playershave changed. Fans have changed. Pundits have changed. Pundits that were part of that era of football - will now acceptgoing to ground voluntarily is acceptableto win a penalty.
What a despairing and wretched turn for the morality of sport, and by that I mean the people in sport, have taken in thiscountry.
"Sport - at it’s bestand most enlightening - is about striving to be proud of your performance, and fighting in a not negative way. It is about fighting to achieve something.” -Kapil Dev, cricketer.
Kapil Dev has spoken about the crucial links between sports and peace.While people compete and fight against each other fora prize -vitally -it is all done within the framework of certain rules, “rules that remind you that you must uphold human values first.”
With football being the world’s sport, and sooften cited as an inspirational factorin many impoverished parts of the world - and it rightly is- it’scrucial we don’t let the sport descend(if it already hasn’t) into the moral nadirs we are currently seeing nastilyblossom. Because football is, was, and should be used asanonly positiveinfluence in the lives of people and children over the world. Diving, cheating,and “winning” free kicks is only purely negative anddeceitfulbehavior, that is not an example for how to achieve something within frameworks of rules and human values. Instead of being a virtuous lesson in how to achieve in life, it is a nasty, selfish and counterfeit way of achieving ”success” in football, or life.
More than anypolitician or charity, football has anunequaledinfluence on the nature of thought ofpeople all around the world. It is, perhaps a bizarre situation to be in, but it is surely theone that exists. It requires, in a thinking world, to be treated with great responsibility.Teaching that it isOK to"get ahead" or succeedin what you do by being fallacious, selfish, and sneaky is morallyabhorrent, yet this “dark side” of the game seems to be winning the war of the mind in English football. I say our moral compass is terribly misaligned, anda “win-at-all-costs” mentality - never ‘won’ anything at all.
The biggest problem with The Brendan Rodgers Philosophy is that he clearly sees himself as such an important part of it. Recent comments from Rodgers that he alone has “added value” to certain players, and that, according to him “is as much the job of the manager as winning games”, shows either a man suffering from severe job insecurities trying to boost his image, or severe self-conceit. Or both. Epictetus - “for it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows”, Rodgers thinks he already “knows” what needs to be done, and if the club and players follow his doctrine, all will work out. Rodgers can stick with his philosophical bravado, but the main tenet of philosophy is to learn and understand, not stick dogmatically to any one ‘idea’.
While Rodgers keeps getting the definitions of ideologies and philosophy mixed up, his Liverpool team continue fail to bear the fruits of any of his work on the training pitch. The most important thing at Liverpool F.C right now is not Brendan Rodgers’ brain, but Luis Suarez. He didn’t have his most fruitful game, but is clearly a bigger threat to any opponent than the footballing ideological nous of Rodgers right now.
The fifth consecutive defeat for Liverpool at Old Trafford, but their fans have never let mere facts get in their way of reality, and this is still in their eyes a defining day of the season. The game itself certainly does carry an intangible charge with it unlike others, but Liverpool fans again have Luis Suarez’s antics to thank for this recent re-kindling of the game’s atmosphere in a time when the footballing gaps between the two clubs is larger than it has ever been in Premiership history.
United were settled and as confident as you could expect in a game with such an emotional charge inside the stadium. Michael Carrick was darting passes with a speed of thought greased by his serenity in his surroundings that not many midfielders can match. Shinji Kagawa and Ashley Young were providing a good presence on the wings. Steven Gerrard, apparently we are told in top form, caused little bother to Cleverley or Carrick.
The opening goal was the showpiece. Incisive one/two-touch passing in the final third that you won’t see bettered. Carrick’s first-time pass forward to Kagawa with his back to goal, laid it off to Welbeck who with a single touch, pushed it forward for Cleverley, two touches and it was wide to onrushing Evra, in the form of his life, who took a touch and delivered it low for Van Persie to guide it home first-time. Six players, nine touches, one goal.
For two Manchester United players in particular, this seemed like a game of determining importance. The first, being Danny Welbeck. He shone. Imagine if he scored goals? Danny is a beacon of United axioms under Fergie. A brilliantly un-English center forward, who refuses to be categorized by pundits looking for an easy explanation of what “type” of striker he is. He’s agile, quick passing, skillful yet relaxed, and adroit at connecting his teammates. He’s almost a throwback to classic Brazilian forwards of the 70’s and 80’s. He certainly can finish, the main question with his goal scoring is his composure, which seems to be so well collected at all times apart from when presented with a chance to score. He’s undoubtedly getting better with each game he plays, and when you mix his energy with his skills, with his commitment to the cause, he is for me the most exciting prospect at United. It was another aspect to his game - intelligent runs behind defenders - that led to free-kick that Van Persie contorted onto Evra’s forehead.
Shinji Kagawa was also hogging a lot of the attention from curious fans antsy to gather enough information to have a solid opinion on him. He’s a player about brief moments of cultured acuteness. Coolness and composure is his forte, and his interest in keeping the ball moving in small spaces spreads to the ethos of the entire team. Cleverley and Welbeck particularly seem to buy-in to his ideas best of all, completely on his wavelength of peppy passing behind enemy lines. If his teammates can entrust him more with the ball where he operates at his best - under pressure from an opponent - we will see more of his assists and goals.
The team’s sharp and savvy passing went awry though in the second half. An under pressure Cleverley receiving deep from Evra, played a risky pass into Carrick who was pick-pocketed by Gerrard, which lead to Evra being caught out of position in the middle, and Vidic was rushed into covering for his full back out wide. Ferdinand was left alone with an on rushing Gerrard, who got his shot away. Even after all this mayhem in the United defending that was caused by one single poor pass from Cleverley, David De Gea, after making a fantastic save unsighted to stop Gerrard’s low drive, has bafflingly been singled out by popular opinion as the main fault. Strikers are always in the better position to react to a rebound off a keeper, Sturridge doing his job well, Rafael was on his heels but probably unlikely to be able to stop Sturridge anyway, who had a head start, facing the goal, as forwards do. More than anything though, this goal came about from good pressure high up the pitch from Liverpool, forcing mistakes from our midfield.
The terrible state of the usually good Old Trafford pitch certainly isn’t helping the team’s passing game. Ferguson commented recently the pitch was on it’s last legs, and the turf on Sunday was being lifted with every step. With Vidic and Young both leaving the stadium on crutches, we certainly don’t need a bad pitch throwing in a helping-hand in increasing our already frequent injury problems.
Back to Brendan’s Philosophy Corner. After the 1-3 home defeat to Aston Villa in December, Brendan invoked the spirit of the line-graph while he mused in his post-game interview that “the growth and process of the group is never linear”. You can’t imagine Sir Alex ever speaking in such ambiguous ways, and has always worked on a “brand” of football and spirit, rather than any self-conceited ‘philosophy’ of play. For the second time this season, the old Master’s methodology won the debate.
"In football everything is complicated by the presence of the other team" -Jean-Paul Sartre.
Full back is becoming an increasingly important and influential position in English and European football, and a good left back especially is worth his weight in uranium. I was interested to compare the 3 highest profile Left-backs in the English league - Leighton Baines (21 apps), Ashley Cole (17 apps), and Patrice Evra (20 apps). For the sake of clarity, (and because this article is mainly about the differences between Baines and Evra) I have not included Gael Clichy due to him having only 13 appearances. Defending.
The thing that stood out most for me when looking at each players defensive stats, is the aerial duals (headers contested and won). Baines and Cole both have similar, quite poor defensive heading attributes, this season Baines winning just 8 of his 18 aerial duels, Cole 11 of his 21 duels. Patrice Evra however, is simply in a different league. Winning 48 of 66 aerial duels. To put that into perspective, it’s better than Johnny Evans (35 of 64) and Gary Cahill (39 of 54). However Cahill and Evans have both made abotu 5 less appearances. Never the less, still incredibly impressive for a full back.
Aerial duels won -
Baines - 8 of 18 (0.4 per game) Cole - 11 of 21 (0.6 per game) Evra - 48 of 66 (2.4 per game)
Tackling (total tackles) -
Baines - 43 (2 per game) Cole - 45 (2.6 per game) Evra - 52 (2.6 per game)
In tackling, you would expect the most defensive of full backs, Cole, to comfortably be ahead. However Evra makes the same average tackles per game.
Dribbled past -
Baines - 5 times (0.2 times per game) Cole - 7 times (0.4 times per game) Evra - 11 times (0.6 times per game)
All player are quite strong in respect, although perhaps not too surprisingly Evra gets beaten slightly more often. Baines though, is clearly the most difficult player to dribble past, only 5 times this season. However I would suppose due to being more defensive, Cole may have been engaged in more 1-on-1 situations than Baines or Evra, who often are caught up pitch in counter attacks.
Baines - 5 Cole - 3 Evra - 11
Evra again out on top defensively, blocking 11 shots so far this season. This is a fairly high amount for a full back. Ashley Cole’s number though is incredibly low for such a defensive minded defender, and should be much higher (Maynor Figueroa the highest shot blocking FB, with 18 blocks).
Baines - 47 (2.2 per game) Cole - 50 (2.9 per game) Evra - 104 (5.2 per game)
Patrice Evra again completely dominating in this respect, and that figure by my viewing puts him as the top clearing full back in the league. This may be relating to his strong defensive heading ability, especially at corners, that Baines and Cole don’t usually contest.
Baines - 34 (1.6 per game) Cole - 20 (1.2 per game) Evra - 26 (1.3 per game)
It’s quite clear that statistically the contribution to the team of Patrice Evra, perhaps surprisingly, is quite a way ahead of both Cole and Baines. His heading and clearing ability especially, is in a different class. But his shot blocking and tackling is also better. United fans may question Evra’s positioning, but when actively engaged in defensive duties there aren’t many better.
Attacking stats is where Leighton Baines rightfully shines, especially his huge crossing and key passes stats. Though this season, Evra has more goals (4) and same assists (2). Also Baines set pieces are a huge asset. I’ve included Marcelo and Jordi Alba here, also.
Crossing. Baines - 69 accurate of 189 attempted (3.0 per game) Cole - 3 of 26 (0.2 per game) Evra - 13 of 53 (0.7 per game) Jordi Alba 3 of 21 (0.2 per game) Marcelo 7 of 15 (1.2 per game)
I think the attempted crosses is the far more important stat here, rather than the “accuracy”, as a cross may lead to a goal scoring possibility regardless of it initially reaches it’s “target”. As spectacularly attention grabbing as Baines amount is, Ashley Cole’s almost complete lack of them is just as shocking. Barely registering 1 cross per game, the attacking play through crosses is almost non existent. Baines however, is quite easily as the top crosser, defender or not, in Europe.
Key Passes Baines - 69 (3.3 per game) Cole - 13 (0.8 per game) Evra - 19 (1 per game) Jordi Alba - 13 (0.8 per game) Marcelo - 11 (1.8 per game)
Key Passes, defined by OPTA as “The final pass or pass-cum-shot leading to the recipient of the ball having an attempt at goal without scoring.”. Baines 3.3 per game puts him level with Pirlo this season. Only Franck Ribery in Europe has higher. No one in La Liga matches Baines here.
Statistically, the picture painted is quite clear. Evra is leagues ahead in defensive contributions, Baines is galaxies ahead in attacking contributions. Cole is bottom of the pile in both respects. So, if Leighton Baines is a target for United, United will clearly be losing some huge numbers defensively that I’m not sure Baines can replace. Evra might have impressive stats, but the fact remains United’s team defensive issues have certainly been caused by the full backs both bombing forward and leaving acres behind them. But it can’t be said that Evra doesn’t contribute defensively, he’s one of the most active full backs in the league where defensive numbers are concerned.
If there’s one weakness in Evra’s game, it has always been his crossing. If he’s got an attacking strength, it’s getting into crossing areas. Ferguson loves his full backs to get to the goal line and Baines would surely be a huge asset to the United style of play. But would Ferguson be happy with losing such an important player in the air for his team, for one who is clearly lacking in that area? Rafael usually marks the post on corners, and I believe Baines may do the same thing for Everton. One of them would need to give up that job if they both played. Baines is surely a big asset, in my view the top attacking full back in Europe right now, but being 29 this time next year, and costing near £20 million, I wonder if he really is still in Ferguson’s plans.
During a recent private conversation with Sir Alex Ferguson, cycling czar Sir David Brailsford inquired of the 26-year coach of the biggest sports team in the world, “what is your secret to constant success and longevity?”
"Get rid of the cunts", was Ferguson’s reply.
In his typically effervescent way, the response is clarion clear. In Ferguson’s view group stability is the key to unlocking the door to a long path of success. Whether it’s brusque casting aside of important players who had become disruptive to the regime, or the allegiant focus on youth and future potential, to his adamant refusal to publicly disrespect his contestable employers in the Glazer tribe, everything Ferguson does at the club is dogmatically focused on maintaining a stability. It’s a stability plan that’s always required him as the fulcrum of course, but he’s been doing it so well that no fan would have it any other way. The problem is, soon we will have to.
This legacy of the stability of Ferguson at United is what should be heeded most carefully upon his retirement. There is no avoiding the boat being rocked at that moment. Not even the aggressive Malcolm Glazer tidal wave and the media storm the fan reaction brought was enough to destabilize the ship under Ferguson. The exits of star players popular with fans like Ince, Stam, Beckham, Keane, Van Nistelrooy, non of these potentially damaging rifts ever destabilized the vessel. The vital thing down all the years was clear; no outside influences must be allowed to effect the players on the pitch. If we are to learn anything from his time, it should be allowed to be no different when he is no longer around.
But at some point, the catch-22 in the Ferguson master plan will be upon us. The man that has devoted his life to keeping United stable, will be unavoidably at the heart of the clubs most traumatic schism.
Not an opinion I held until quite recently, but like the finest reds in Ferguson’s cellar, the idea of David Moyes as manager has gotten better over time. In the past 10 years managers names allegedly in the frame have come and gone, waxed an waned, yet Moyes’ has stayed steady. Moyes doesn’t have a gleaming trophy cabinet. Yet his fellow managers have voted him a record 3-time LMA Manager of the Year for good reasons. And I believe these reasons make him the most suited candidate for the job. The fact is, there is no easy option to replace Ferguson. Moyes’ lack of experience in Champions League games for me counts against him far more than his lack of trophies, yet his experience in English league football is unrivaled amongst other potential suitors.
“‘When I was a player at Celtic and Alex was manager at Aberdeen, I’d sit on the bench at Celtic watching him, and I was just struck by the intensity, the passion, the drive.” -Moyes
The transition to a Moyes led Old Trafford would be the smoothest, and not only in terms of the football played. The personal similarities alone between the two Glaswegians is in itself uncanny. Moyes is from Partick, a part of Glasgow that sits directly opposite across the river of Ferguson’s famous area of Govan. Ferguson’s father was a shipbuilder in Govan, and Moyes’ father worked as a draughtsman in the same shipbuilders. It goes on, Moyes’ father also coached one of the boy’s teams that a wee Alex Ferguson played for. Both men have been brought up with fiercely working-class values, and both men as managers instill this no-nonsense and hard-work ethos into their teams.
Moyes exemplifies stability.
Firstly, Moyes being British affords him a great advantage over continental suitors. The long-term inclinations and history of both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho is contestable. Mourinho’s relations with club owners makes him a genuine risk as manager, and his affiliations with Chelsea don’t sit great with me personally. Pep’s Barca-burnout naturally makes you wonder if he could cope with the extravagant stress and focus on United, especially long-term. Mourinho has often stated he wants to return to England at some point (in doing so at the same time destabilising his own team in Madrid), but he has also stated his strong desire to manage the Portuguese national team eventually.
Moyes’ attraction for and experience in planning for the long-term gives him more similarities with Ferguson, and means he already is in tune with the club’s values. His canny and thrifty dealings in the transfer market shows he is not a manager who relies or needs masses of cash to do his job. Could Jose Mourinho work comfortably under the same restraints? It’s fairly unknown. What is known is that Mourinho has had confrontations with bosses who have not given him the cash he feels he needs, when he feels he needs it. In tempestuous times in managerial climates Moyes has been the beacon of stability for his club for 10 years with humble resources.
When Moyes joined Everton, in 2002, he said “what Everton need more than anything is stability and continuity. That will come through having a group of young players..and a manager to lead them”. Of course Moyes was the manager who successfully unleashed Wayne Rooney into the league, and has always shown interest in young players and players with potential when possible. He recently commented on his admiration of the youth policies of German teams, and his desire to emulate them. Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert, Wayne Rooney, Victor Anichebe, Jack Rodwell are some Everton academy graduates Moyes has successfully brought into the first team. (A side note of trivia while we’re on the subject, Moyes coincidentally was the Preston assistant manager when David Beckham was successfully sent there on loan by Sir Alex.)
Youth development of course has always been crucial, if not the most crucial tenet at Old Trafford, and it’s absolutely vital we bring in a manager post-Ferguson who understands and encourages this. A British manager, also, has a major advantage in this case. Ability to communicate completely effectively and relate or explain some cultural intricacies to young players in this country is indispensable.
Style of play.
This season, as I write this on 4 January 2013, Everton have scored more goals from open play than either Chelsea or Man City. Any watcher of Everton can see that Moyes has a real understanding of team-play, it’s an understated fact that Everton display some of the most attractive one touch passing and interplay in the league. Moyes’ teams play with width and deliver plenty of crosses. It’s an attractive style of play the fans at Old Trafford are accustomed to watching, with wide midfielders linking and exchanging with their full backs.
Whatever players are around at Old Trafford when Ferguson moves on, under Moyes there will not need to be a potentially dramatic overhaul of the United style of play, potentially destabilizing the way the players are used to playing. Moyes’ teams are good at creating scoring chances and attacking set pieces, it’s an aggressive style of play that suits the Old Trafford faithful. Defensively, last season Everton finished with the fourth best defence in the league.
Moyes’ teams are also noted for their strong ability to come back from losing positions. Indeed, Moyes’ ability to bounce back from upset was probably most evident after the season they finished 17th, 2004, just avoiding relegation. The following season they finished in 4th, qualifying for the Champions League, where they went out unfortunately to a Villareal team who went on to be unbeaten in the group stage that included Sir Alex’s United, and reached the semi-finals.
Operating under one of the tightest budgets in the league, Moyes’ hawkish eye for a successful player has more than impressive. Jelavic (6m), Lescott (4m), Arteta (3m), Jagielka (4m), Cahill(2m), Fellaini (15m), Pienaar (2m), Neville (3.6m) and Baines (6m) have all been unbridled success stories. Moyes’ track record of achieving his aims with minimal funding should make him a serious contender in the eyes of any potential employers. With United currently in debts of over £300 million, a manager in charge who needs to demand a new stock of expensive players to fit in with his methods is surely a recipe for disaster. Moyes, like Ferguson, is known to be a bit of an obsessive when it comes to monitoring potential players. Often jetting to multiple countries during a week to watch players. It’s the sort of effort in detail successful managers are known for.
The idiosyncrasies of the press and media coverage in English football requires a manager who is experienced in dealing with it. The scrutiny, especially that United and it’s players are under of course, is intense. No manager that is replacing Ferguson is getting a free-ride, the pressure will be like no other any manager has faced, but Moyes has a good relationship with British press and this would again surely help with the stability of the club at this time. This is again an area I have my concerns about Mourinho. A media darling, but this is mainly due to his soundbites. His apparently unstoppable desire for making ‘outrageous’ comments to the press has a high possibility of backfiring on Mourinho, and therefore United, at such a delicate time.
While David Moyes was a young and ambitious manager of Preston, he had a managerial offer from a Premier League club. Ferguson, who was contacted in a request for guidance by Moyes, told the young manager to reject the offer, and wait. Twelve years on, Moyes has shown himself in my opinion to be a man capable of stepping into Ferguson’s own position, when the time is right. As I previously said, there simply is no easy choice for this unique position. Guardiola and Mourinho clearly have the European experience that a club like United might expect of a new manager. However, I think the benefits of appointing Moyes out-weigh this point. European success isn’t guaranteed for any manager, and plenty have also succeeded without any prior experience.
Ferguson has always preached continuity, but he has also often achieved that continuity through change. I think in employing Moyes (and as long as SAF’s health is good, I don’t expect it to be anytime soon), United would keep alive that great tradition.
When one thinks of the central midfield pairings on parade at Old Trafford over the last decade, one’s mind is of course inescapably drawn to the mythology of Romulus and Remus, twin sons of the God of Mars, eventual founders of Ancient Rome, immediately deserted and discarded upon their once promising birth into the River Tiber. At Old Trafford, not much is currently known about the whereabouts of the Liam Millers, Djemba Djembas, Alan Smiths, Klebersons, Gibsons, Possebons et el, and for all anyone at United knows or cares these particular Fergie-fledglings may have suffered the same watery fate as the Roman twins, flung by Ferguson himself dispassionately into the Manchester Ship Canal than runs adjacent to the famous Manchester stadium.
But fortunately the forced analogy doesn’t quite end there. Romulus and Remus of course went on to actually survive their trauma at birth, with the help of a righteously mammarious wolf mother (Manchester also, incidentally, named after the Celtic word for breasts), and with the kind help of other forest animals, Romulus went on to found the great Empire of Rome, but not before killing his unfortunate own twin along the way.
Which brings me not at all too awkwardly onto the subject of Michael Carrick and Manchester United United pairings. Many OT(T) fans have been craving for Ferguson to break the habit of a lifetime and buy that elusive ‘defensive minded midfield battler’, without thinking too hard what that might mean for the artful Geordie wile of Carrick. But perhaps now the Old Trafford zeitgeist has shifted. Six years into his United career, and doing pretty much the same thing he’s always done, Micheal Carrick may have finally won over the majority of fans, who seemingly weren’t previously paying attention to anything other than the number 16 on his shirt. Carrick has been a faithful partner to many in the central midfield since his arrival in 2006, but not many have had fans quite as excited as his matrimony this season with the perceptive Tom Cleverley. Carrick’s urbane twinning with Paul Scholes or Darren Fletcher was wildly successful for a time, but now Carrick seems to have, Romulus-esque, shed his former partner(s), and found himself at the heart of a new, exciting and powerful United team. In a midfield pairing that, away from home, has already won the battles with Man City and Chelsea, United’s two rival empires.
Alex Ferguson’s past intimacies at Old Trafford with his more ‘defence minded’ midfield signings have historically been quite loveless. From his ego-butting with Paul Ince, the gauche bunglings of Djemba-Djemba, and knee-nightmares of Owen Hargreaves, it’s not actually so surprising he isn’t keen on buying any more. Ferguson also expects so much from his players, that a player taking a position in his midfield needs to be doing far more for the team than simply resisting attacks. To be sure, Sir Alex hasn’t bought what you might call a defence-minded midfielder since Hargreaves in 2007. Even then, Hargreaves was purchased just as much for his more rounded box-to-box abilities than for any specific defensive duties. Indeed, it could be argued Eric Djemba-Djemba is Ferguson’s only defence-minded midfield buy since Premier League football began. That’s quite a thought. Another success that may pop into your head is of course Kleberson, but he was known (quite remarkably) more as a passing, long-ranging, box-to-box style of player who drove teams forward and before he turned up at Manchester airport wearing shiny, tight leather pants United fans were actually quite excited by the arrival of a Brazilian World Cup winner. Roy Keane was purchased as an all round, influential, quick passing team player. In his early United days Keane was a marauding presence, who would do whatever was necessary to win the game, whether that be a attack breaking tackle, or a game winning goal. In his later years, when Keane was forced into focusing more on his defensive role, Ferguson no longer saw him as crucial to the team, and Keane’s exit was notably sharp.
Nevertheless, as much as any single player, duos in the United team have been a hallmark of Ferguson’s great teams. The Two Towers of Bruce and Pallister, Beauty and the Beast of Ferdinand and Vidic, the runaway, explosive and short lived Bonnie and Clyde of Yorke and Cole, and even from the shadows of sub bench, the thinking, problem solving pair of Solskjaer and Sheringham: Mulder and Scully. It goes on. A more recent central midfield experimentation has involved the superhero Batman and Robin duo of the squad, the aging Giggs and Scholes. Both players have impressively reinvented themselves in recent years and achieved even higher cult-status than they already possessed, but when paired together in midfield, most fans are now wishing they would finally hang up their… capes.
Dodie Smith is a former Old Trafford resident, and more famously the writer of The Hundred and One Dalmations. In the decade since the regal Juan S. Veron was bought for our midfield,the famous story from Old Trafford has felt more like 101 Midfielders. Conjointly, since Micheal Carrick was birthed into the red shirt, his partners have been numerous and varied, more confusing than Tweedledum and Tweedledee.His beginnings in the team in the eyes of fans were at best humble, yet Carrick has remained dignified and determined to succeed. His relationship with the fans has always been mistrustful, wolves at the door, and not the nurturing kind known to Romulus. His opposers didn’t see him as “one of us”. But he has always had one man in his corner. That man is not Mars The Roman God Of War, or a benevolent she-wolf, but someone with a far more specific power in the halls of Old Trafford, his Demigod manager from Govan. Six years after being Ferguson’s lone signing,in his partnership with Cleverley, he finds himself at the heart of a new team as the older, founding statesman of a new generation of a promising United team.
Carrick’s ability to remain stoic and unruffled in pretty much any situation, as Paul Scholes says “makes him a dream to play alongside”. It also makes him a quiet leader among men. Carrick’s temperament and consistency makes him an ideal partner for a new player into the team such as Cleverley most likely bustling with thoughts and apprehensions learning his trade in front of 76,000 people. Carrick is becoming the experienced player the younger players can look to as an example of calmness. While it’s hard to argue that Wayne Rooney is the “heart” of this United team, Carrick’s position and influence in the team can certainly see him labelled as the quiet Emperor. It’s my humble conjecture, that for what he’s given to this team since his arrival, he deserves it.