Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Moyes’ stance with Saha the right thing to do

Premier League footballers and their mis-use of Twitter is rapidly becoming the primary source of news and entertainment for journalists and fans alike.

Free from the oppressive, bland media-trained arena of post-match press rooms, the modern day player on the internet is worryingly loose cannon for managers, with supporters and journos waiting on every tweet.

Whereas previously if footballers were frustrated they would shout their mouth off – at worst – in a pub, the dawn of social networking sites has made it easier to not only talk before they engaged their brain to the consequences, but also to spread it across the world in only a few minutes.

Not that Twitter is all bad, it has a flip-side that has allowed players and supporters to engage in way not seen since the commercialisation of the game 20 years ago rendered player celebrities who had no real connection with the clubs and supporters that paid them so handsomely.

But its compelling force for good matters little to managers like David Moyes when one of his players rants about not being selected before storming out of the ground.

Louis Saha is the player in question after he was left out of the squad for last Saturday’s game with Wigan for refusing to play in the reserves the previous Wednesday.

This is a striker, it has to be pointed out, who for most of his career has lurched from one serious injury to another, appearing to spend more time on the treatment table then playing live football, but who Moyes still took a chance on back in 2008.

At 33-years-old he isn’t getting any younger either, and the ravages of time will make his already fragile body even more brittle.

With finances tight at Goodison Park Moyes knows he not only needs everyone pulling in the right direction, but also to be fit enough to get the football scores the club needs to keep them in the upper reaches of the table - any hint of relegation will send the already worried bank managers into overdrive.

Therefore Moyes has every right to be careful with the Frenchman, especially as he hasn’t started a game for six months. For Saha to act like he did was childish, petulant and from what we can gather, out of character.

I must applaud Moyes’ tough stance though. Small squad or not he can’t afford to let players become comfortable in their positions in the side, there needs to be competition for places, even if much of it is an illusion.

For Saha it certainly isn’t an illusion anymore. Everton’s usually thin forward line has been boosted by the arrival of Argentinean forward Denis Stracqualursi and emergence of young Greek forward Apostos Velios, who nodded the vital second against the Latics on Saturday.

Tim Cahill has also been pressed into action as a emergency lone front man, proving that Moyes can be equally stubborn when proving a point to rule-breaking players.

I’m sure deep down Moyes knows he can’t afford to let go of Saha given the paucity of funds to buy a replacement – certainly one of Saha’s ability. However, discipline must be paramount if the club is to get the best out of his players – a hallmark of the soon-to-be ten year Moyes era.

Hopefully a further chance to reflect on his behaviour instead of playing in Wendesday's match against West Brom will be enough for Saha to put down his phone and concentrate on getting fit.

Monday, 5 September 2011

England need to be professional against improving Wales

For those looking in on England’s progress over the past decade, it is clear that both supporters and media oscillate wildly from boundless optimism to the depths of despair.

The Three Lions are either World-beaters or a bunch of over-paid prima donnas not worthy of the shirt – you would be led to believe anyway.

The feeling has certainly been leaning towards the latter over the past year, as the fall-out from the disastrous 2010 World Cup continues to hang over Wembley like a bad smell.

However, a new season brings new optimism and following a convincing 3-0 win over Bulgaria in the first live football of the new international season that got England’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign back on track, suddenly all the talk is of ‘new eras’ and ‘daring to dream’.

This is, of course, all part of being an England fan and the need to take a bucket load of salt with each glowing or scathing reference of the side has never been more important than when assessing the progress of Capello’s generation.

Hence why I feel the Italian should urge caution ahead of the crucial clash with Wales at Wembley on Tuesday.

It is a game, by rights, England should win easily. As bizarre as the FIFA rankings are they aren’t that inaccurate to suggest the gap between the two sides is any smaller than the current 113 places.

But the ‘derby’ aspect should not be discounted, with players on both sides familiar with each other from domestic encounters. In one of the more eye-catching football scores on Friday, Wales were mightily impressive in beating Montenegro – something England failed to do of course . And although they will be without the influential duo David Vaughan and Craig Bellamy, the presence of Tottenham’s Gareth Bale is enough to keep the England defenders busy.

Damaging draws with Montenegro and Switzerland mean England are still behind schedule in terms of sealing qualification. A tricky trip to Podgorica for their final game means they simply cannot afford any more costly slip-ups. The Euro 2008 nightmare is already rearing its ugly head at the backs of England supporter’s minds.

But a professional performance against Gary Speed’s men will mean only a draw against Montenegro will suffice to ensure qualification – and getting draws away in final qualification group matches seems to be something England are, unbelievably, quite good at.

Toffees stuck in the recession

It’s no secret that Everton have been relatively inactive in the transfer market this summer – and also that this inactivity was not necessarily through choice. It has been revealed by Toffees chairman Bill Kenwright that their hands are tied by the financial constraints of operating in post-recession Britain – and there have been more unsettling words to have come from the man in charge of the Goodison Park purse-strings:

“We've come to a stage with our bank where we just can't borrow any more. We know the situation at the moment: we cannot spend money like other clubs – that is sensible, even if it is not very popular – but at least we have been able to keep our best players.”

And it is this approach of keeping hold of their best players that has concerned a number of fans.

Their worst nightmares were realised on deadline day when influential play-maker Mikel Arteta was sold to Arsenal, with the player later stating that the club needed the money. With Jermaine Beckford and Yakubu also leaving, the arrival of two loan players is not going to do much to allay the fans fears over the size of David Moyes’ squad heading into the new campaign, as well as their ability to keep hold of other established stars the next time the transfer window opens.

Having finished seventh in the league last season despite a nightmare start to the season in which they collected just two points from their opening six Premier League matches, Everton will need improve their opening few football scores this year as the strong manner in which they tend finish seasons could push them towards European qualification rather than away from relegation.

Having had their first live football of the season against Spurs postponed in the wake of the London riots that sprung up in the Tottenham area, and then going on to lose their first home league game against newly-promoted QPR, Everton grabbed a somewhat fortuitous win away at Blackburn courtesy of a controversial 90th minute penalty.

It wasn’t a display to inspire confidence and with the Arteta sale following soon after, many fans have reached breaking point, with a protest planned for their next home game against Aston Villa to voice their dissatisfaction to a board they feel is slowly killing the club through stagnation and inactivity.

Miracle maker Moyes is once again going to have to pull anotehr rabbit out of the hat to keep Everton competitive this year. But the growing feeling is that he may not be willing to do so for much longer.