Friday, 30 May 2008

Shanks a lot!

For those that don't know, I'm an Ipswich Town fan, and rather than preview Euro 2008 Group B as planned, given that I don't have a really corny title, and there is big news coming out of Portman Road today, I thought I'd fill you in on the happennings in IP1.

It was announced that David Sheepshanks' chairman role becomes 'non-executive' from 1st July. A birthday present a few days early some might think. Ever since Sheepshanks decided in January 2001 to renegotiate players contracts at a level that was unsubstainable should we be relegated - just months after promotion and before we had secured our Premier League place for the following season. We may have been fourth at the time, but as any Ipswich fan of the early nineties will tell you, at that time in 1993 - also our first season back in the top flight after a promotion - we were third, we finished the season three points clear of relegation. Sheepshanks' comments about how nobody could have predicted that we would be relegated in 2002, may have been true, but then nobody would have predicted we would have finished fifth in 2001 in the first place. Given Sheepshanks' comments in the past warning other chairmen of the boom and bust culture, and also in a interview with When Saturday Comes magazine stated that "We're not about that", it was kind of ironic that not only did his post-relegation desperation tactics reduce the value of the players, so we lost most of our best players on the cheap and entered administration. Not much of Sheepshanks' tenure since is anything to write home about. That said, he managed to spin the situation is such a way that he managed to pass the buck onto every factor he could (even the ITV Digital crisis, which came from a loophole in a contract that he helped co-negotiate) and survived as chairman, despite only Bradford being in a worst financial position of the ex-Premiership boomed and busted clubs. Now he gets to bask in the glory of finding the man that has saved the club. From the mess he created. We owe £12million more than we did, mind. And we owe it to our new owner, because in this post-Malcolm Glazer world, he can't be expected to pay for his own shares.

But, celebrating this could bite us on the arse, as reports suggest that should Owen Garvan turn down his contract extension, then we'll sell him, rather than risk him leaving at the end of his contract - despite the fact that as he'll be under the age of 24, we will be due compensation. Which is only likely to be at worst £1m less than his current market value. Given that our new owner is a reputed billionaire, who has invested £20million into the club, it seems folly to lose our best player for the sake of 5% of the investment made just six months ago.

Especially given Jim Magilton's record in the transfer market. Despite bringing in 17 permanent signings and nine loanees in the space of two seasons, we don't look at team. There is not a single player at the club who is a natural right midfielder, instead we play a target man (Jon Walters), a pacy striker with poor distribution (Danny Haynes), or a central midfielder (David Norris) there, and while Walters won player of the seaon on the basis of his first half-season of performances there, the latter half of the season has seen him found out to an extent in his new position, which is why he's started eight out of his last eleven games in his natural position. Also, as we spent months chasing him, talking about him in public, and then spent £2m on David Norris, we've got to play him somewhere, even if it makes him look bad. We've been linked with a lot of players so far this close season, but none of them play wide right.

As well as no natural right midfielders, we have two left backs at the club, but both are as likely to play this season as I am. Kurt Robinson is seventeen, and Magilton seems loath to use youth where possible. In Joe Royle's first two seasons, he gave debuts to ten youth players. Magilton has given debuts to just two. And there are people out there that will tell you that it's Royle who had the problem with youth. Matt Richards, Ian Westlake, Dean Bowditch, Lewis Price, Owen Garvan, Shane Supple and Danny Haynes all established themselves under Royle, yet the first player to leave the club under Magilton was Westlake. Price has also been sold, and Richards, Supple, Garvan, Haynes and most suprisingly of all Billy Clarke all seem to be on their way, while Bowdich is still waiting to find out if he will be offered a new contract. All of which would leave us with two players who have graduated from the academy (not including the 31 year old Richard Naylor) who have played first team football - Chris Casement and Liam Trotter. Casement hasn't played in 2008, and Trotter has played a handful of minutes since a harsh sending off against Portsmouth.

With that record with the youths, the transfer policy needs to be good, and certainly needs to improve over the summer if a promotion challenge is to be repeated. Some of the names linked are just scary, but fit in with Magilton's MO so far. If we look at his signings so far, they fall into 3 categories:

Irish (both sides of the border), or at least has represented them at some level:

  • Alex Bruce: signed as a holding midfielder, but didn't last long there. These days is either a right back who drifts inside or a steady, if not solid centre-half. When we spent half the season trying to sign Gareth McAuley from Leicester, it wasn't Jason De Vos we were looking to replace.
  • George O'Callaghan: Impressed in a three month trial. Made five starts before being shipped out first on loan to Brighton, then permanently back to Cork City.
  • Jon Walters: Best player in the team.
  • Nick Colgan: Likely to leave in the summer without playing a game.
  • Alan Quinn: Like Norris, Sumulikosi and Tommy Miller, moves up and down the pitch in a straight line a lot. Not much else going for him. Least said about his free-kicks the better. Could also fit in the next group.


  • Pablo Couñago: Ten goals in his first 24 games, two in his last 21.
  • Tommy Miller: Was accused by fans of disappearing in a lot of games towards the end of his first spell. Made even less of an impact this time round.

Not Irish, not an ex-teammate.
  • Dan Harding; Magilton's second signing was a virtual ever present in his first season, and has ended the second on the transfer list.
  • Martin Brittain: Made an encouraging debut in the League Cup. Never seen in an Ipswich shirt again.
  • Sylvain Legwinski: Player of the season in his first season. Barely seen in his second. Now released.
  • Ian Miller: Looked solid in his debut. Never seen in an Ipswich shirt again. Now at Darlington.
  • Jaroslav Drobny: Short term signing as back up. Now in Germany.
  • Gary Roberts: Impressed in a three month loan spell. Unimpressive since. Transfer listed.
  • David Wright: Still at the club, not on the transfer list. Is more likely to be played out of position or on the bench than his usual right back role (which he mananed once in the last ten games).
  • Neil Alexander: Good, if not great keeper. Stayed six months, now at Rangers.
  • David Norris: Good box to box midfielder. Like we haven't got enough of those. Has played in his natural position once. Great way to use our biggest value signing since 2001.
  • Velice Sumulikoski. Good box to box midfielder. Like we haven't got enough of those. At least we play him in his right position.

So, Walters, Wright and Sumulikoski are the only three successes for me, and even Magilton hasn't been impressed with most of the others, given that they're mainly gone or going. And the jury is still out on Schumi. So when I hear of more mediocre Irish players (McAuley, David Healy, Alan Mannus, Peter Thompson, Ian Harte) ex-teammates (Richard Wright and god help us Titus Bramble and Jay McEveley) and other random, yet crap players (Dean Leacock, Carlos Bocanegra, Thomas Sorenson and most notably Emile Mpenza!), please forgive me if I don't get excited about the players we've been linked with, who I don't know anything about. If Pim Balkestein, Obinna Nwaneri, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Behrang Safari, Andreas Granqvistand Rahamat Mustapha are anything like those that have gone before, then let them go somewhere else.

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with Irish players or his ex-teammates, I'd just rather we had the good ones, than the mediocrities we've seen so far.

Euro 2008 Preview: Czech out the Swiss role

One of the greatest things about even numbered years is the fact that the football doesn't stop. Once the League Two final ended on Monday, then the International friendlies begin, and they of course are the precursor for Euro 2008, which begins in just over eight days and fifteen hours time. And, given that the deadline for the squads has passed, I thought I'd spend the next few days looking over the teams as a bit of a preview. Of course the best place to begin is Group A, and we'll start with the co-hosts.

Switzerland take part in the opening game for the second time in the three finals they will have taken a part of, the other being at Wembley in 1996. That day, Kubilay Turkyilmaz was the party pooper as the Swiss held their English hosts to a 1-1 draw. This time, the hosts will be looking for a win - which would be their first in seven attempts at a Euro finals. They do however, have their second round appearence at the World Cup relatively fresh in the memory. They eventually lost on penalties, and exited the tournament without conceding a goal. Obviously defence is their strength. That said, Pascal Zuberbuhler has been usurped as 'keeper by Diego Benaglio, and two of their defenders - centre-half Patrick Muller (torn cruciate ligament) and right back Philipp Degen (torn thigh muscle) are only just coming back to fitness from long term injuries. This increases the pressure on Philippe Senderos and Valon Behrami, and leaves question marks over their strength of two years ago. At the other end of the pitch, the goals are likely to come from the controversial Alexander Frei, Marco Streller and midfielder Hakan Yakin, while Johan Volanthen was tipped for great things, when he became the second youngest player in finals history four years ago.

One to watch: Alexander Frei has returned from injury to score six in his last eight games for Borussia Dortmund.
One for the future: FC Basle's Eren Derdiyok scored within 12 minutes of his international debut at Wembley in February.

The co-hosts's opening game will be in Basle against the Czech Republic. Of all the new nations to emerge from the former Iron Curtain, the Czech's have made the biggest impact of all. Most notably as runners-up in 1996. Blessed with talents such as Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky, Pavel Kuka and Miroslav Kadlec, they won many friends with their style as well as their ability. These days, Nedved, Poborsky, Smicer are all retired,  Jan Koller is 35, Milan Baros has had a very inconsistant season, and Tomas Rosicky is injured. Which is a shame, as for the first time since the Czech Republic split from Slovakia, they have a favourable draw. All of their previous campaigns have had to begin against at least two former or reigning world or continental champions. That said, it gives a new generation a chance to shine, although their strength is in defence, rather than up front. Petr Cech is reckoned by many to be the best goalkeeper in the world, and Zdenek Grygera and Marek Jankulovski are both regulars at top Italian clubs, and Tomas Ujfalusi has contributed to Fiorentina pipping Jankulovski's Milan to the Champions League. Midfield looks to be a weakness, as only Tomas Galasek has over 35 caps, and none of the eight players selected by coach Karel Bruckner plays for one of Europe's elite clubs.  Up front, Koller's experience should compensate for his age, and as he was never the fastest player in the world, his advancing years shouldn't be too much of a drawback.  With Baros' form a factor, it is a concern that only one other striker (Libor Sionko) has hit the target for his country with four goals in 27 appearances.

One to watch: As long as he has licence to move forward, Marek Jankulovski will provide a lot of creativity - and leave good opportunities for the opposition to counter-attack.
One for the future: Martin Fenin's goal in the World U-20 championship last season led to a lot of high profile clubs looking to sign him, with Fenin choosing Eintracht Frankfurt over Juventus.

The strongest team on group on paper are Portugal, especially given the form of Cristiano Ronaldo who has scored a phonomenal 45 goals this season - three of which for Portugal. A ratio of almost a goal a game is made even more impressive by the fact that he regularly plays out wide. While questions have been asked about Cristiano Ronaldo's big match performances, those were put to rest in emphatic style with a bullet header in the Champions League final last week. With strength throughout the squad, with Ricardo Carvalho and a choice of Paulo Ferreira, Miguel and Bosingwa in defence, Joao Mountinho and Deco in the centre, Simao joining Cristiano out wide, and Nuno Gomes likely to play up fron on his own, this Portugese side looks even stronger than the one that fell at the final hurdle in 2004. The only weaknesses tend to be in goal, where Ricardo can be amazing, but can be erratic (although he does have the big game mentality needed by an international goalkeeper), and at left back, a cruel irony given their embarrassment of riches at right back.

One to watch: While the obvious answer is Cristiano Ronaldo, any side paying him too much attention, should make sure it's not at the expense of Deco.

One for the future: Joao Mountinhio is already captain of Portugal at the age of 21, and a move to La Liga or the Premier League has been mooted over the summer.

Last, and undoubtedly least is Turkey.
Fatih Terim returns to the big stage, 12 years after guiding the Turks to their first ever European Championship finals. And, while Fenerbahce's run to the quarter finals of the Champions League would ordinarily prove to boost the national side, the team is dominated by national champs Galatasaray. In fact, the five Fener players have only 47 caps between them. Only seven of the squad play outside Turkey, most notably Nihat (Villareal), Emre (Newcastle United), Tuncay (Middlesbrough) and Hamit Altintop of Bayern. Munich. The side is relatively inexperienced internationally, the exception being goalkeeper Rustu, whose 128 caps is more than the team's seven defenders combined, and nine of the squad are still in single figures on the world stage. All which will likely mean an early exit, but it will give the players a chance to shine for the first time on a wider stage.

One to watch: Hamit Altintop has played an important role in Bayern Munich's regaining of the Bundesliga. Pacy, with a strong shot and a keen tackler, 

One for the future: Arda Turun's distribution, creativity and his ability to beat defenders has led to comparisons to Gheorghe Hagi.

The lowdown

The opening game in any tournament is usually a low-scoring letdown, and with the Swiss and the Czechs both strong in defence, this should be no different. Portugal should start their first game with a win. Portugal are the strongest team in the group, and should progress unbeaten, however they could drop points to the hosts, which could prove decisive in the battle for second. Turkey will round out the group pointless.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

A Golden Age?

It's been almost a year since I decided to become a mature student and join the Open University. At the moment, I want to head towards psychology or criminology. In order to ease students into the first year, and give us students some familiarity with the subject - and a view of some of the other options - the first year is a general look at the social sciences. This means as well as psychology and criminology, we get to look at politics, economics, sociology, geography and more. All well and good, but when you reach the end of the course, instead of knocking up an assignment based on one subject, all of a sudden you've got one assignment, and you have to include at least three blocks of the course. All of a sudden 1500 words stops sounding like a major achievement, and suddenly becomes a restriction. To put it into context, so far I've written the equivalent of 10% of the assigment, just in this blog post. And that's taken five minutes, and no effort at all. Still, it helps that there is a choice of questions. And one of them is about the best thing I've learned all year. 'The golden age'. It's doesn't exist. It's in our heads. Think about this quote for a minute:

The Whole City, My Lord, is alarm'd and uneasy. Wickedness has got such a Head, and the Robbers and Insolence of the Night are such that the citizens are no longer secure within their own Walls or safe even in passing their Streets, but are robbed, insulted, and abused, even at their own Doors … The citizens are oppressed by Rapin and Violence.
The olde worlde style words used tell us that it's an old quote, but the sentiment is one we hear a lot ourselves. We're in danger of being robbed. We're not safe in our houses. It's not safe to walk the streets. It's not like it used to be. The quote is from Daniel Defoe, way back in 1730, so either the streets became very safe between the eighteenth century and fifty years ago when people could leave their front doors open whilst they went to Butlin's for the week, or people have a rosier view of earlier times in their lifetime. And the times they enjoyed the best, are remembered in a way that distorts them to the extent that they can be remembered even more fondly. or something.

And therein lies the problem with the assignment. I've just scratched the surface of the question, referenced one aspect of the year, and *BANG* 20% of the word limit is taken up. Still, I have just over a week to finish it, and as I've just written the equivalent of a third of the essay in twenty minutes, and given that as it's essentially an end of course review, means that it should be a piece of piss to complete, right...?

Hello and Welcome

So this is it. My first blog entry. I suppose I could introduce myself, but let's be  honest, at this stage, the only people who are reading this will know me, so those of you picking this up in the long distant future will have to get to know me from the other scintillating posts.