Bilic Mutes the Mutiny at the Last but West Ham’s Battlers Need a Plan

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London — Midway through the first half, Slaven Bilic switched his wingers. Michail Antonio went left, André Ayew went right. It was a sure sign that Bilic’s tactics were malfunctioning.

In theory it made sense for West Ham United to start in a 4-4-2 system, which plays to the strengths of both Andy Carroll and Javier Hernández, for the first time this season. Yet a plan that looks good on paper will never work if players are confused by their instructions and in practice West Ham’s ponderous approach rarely stretched Swansea City. There was no flow, no rhythm, and the disgruntled atmosphere at the London Stadium grew to a mutinous pitch when Diafra Sakho replaced the ineffective Hernández in the 78th minute.

A dire game was drifting towards a goalless draw and for the first time there was a sense of the narrative shifting against Bilic, whose hold over a hitherto adoring public seemed to be slipping, belatedly allowing the board to contemplate sacking the Croat without having to worry about a supporter backlash. Hernández furiously shook his head on the bench and the crowd sympathised with the £16m striker’s incandescence at having made way instead of Carroll.

Yet a prominent theme during the past 12 months has been West Ham’s knack of grinding out an ugly win just when Bilic is thought to be on the brink. It happened on several occasions last season and the pattern continued when Sakho, who tried to engineer a move to Rennes in the summer, vindicated Bilic’s unpopular decision by converting a cross from his fellow substitute Arthur Masuaku in the 90th minute.

There was a similar vibe when West Ham responded to losing their first three games by earning an unconvincing victory against Huddersfield Town last month and there is a temptation to conclude that winning while playing poorly is proof that a decent team will break out once confidence comes flowing back. It is partly this sense of longing that has protected Bilic, an intelligent and charismatic man who speaks articulately and wears his heart on his sleeve.

He is hard to dislike, which explains the desire to see him do well. Other teams in West Ham’s position might have downed tools in an attempt to force their manager out, but Bilic’s players continue to fight for him, masking the lack of any discernible style of play by demonstrating their battling qualities.

“I see that they want to do it,” Bilic said. “After the first three games, when we were on zero points, I didn’t see no discipline in the camp. On the contrary, I felt that we wanted to do it all together. Are they doing it for the manager or themselves? At the end of the day, it’s not important.

“You can talk about the quality of our performance today but we won the game because we didn’t give up. We didn’t raise unbelievably the quality of our game in the second half, but if I am on the pitch and I don’t care, it was the perfect situation not to care. But we didn’t. We forced that goal.”

The problem is that the longer this persists, the more Bilic will come across as a motivational cheerleader rather than a tactical mastermind. That might be enough to keep West Ham out of the relegation zone but it is not a solid foundation for success.

Having risen to 15th after picking up seven points from four games, West Ham have an opportunity to build after the international break. “Now I’m expecting for us to do much better,” Bilic said.

He is safe for now, but ultimately this was the kind of uneven performance that shows why his long-term future is less certain. Unless Bilic can snap them out of the wearying cycle of constantly needing a scrappy win to ward off a major crisis, West Ham will have few compelling reasons to extend his contract at the end of the season.

The Guardian Sport

Premier League: 10 Talking Points from the Weekend’s Action

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London – 1) Hughton hankers after firepower

Chris Hughton, the Brighton & Hove Albion manager, said it all when he highlighted how his team had not been “out of sight” against Arsenal, just as they had not been against Manchester City on the opening weekend of the season. On both occasions, the final scoreline of 0-2 hinted at respectability. Which, in truth, was Brighton’s priority. The gap to the Premier League’s top six clubs yawns like a chasm and Hughton’s approach at the Emirates Stadium – an approach born out of necessity – was characterised by damage limitation. Hughton used a 4-5-1 system and, even after Nacho Monreal’s early opener, Brighton did not come out. Their lack of firepower remains a worry. It was the fourth time in seven league matches that they had drawn a blank. However, their season will not be defined by away games like this. David Hytner

2) Vardy’s body needs some respite

After an uneasy start to the season, in which Leicester City have earned a meagre five points, Craig Shakespeare can find some respite before they host West Bromwich Albion on 16 October. The same applies for Jamie Vardy – omitted from the England squad – who will be given a steroid injection to solve his hip problem this week. His manager defended the striker’s decision to play through the pain barrier for his club but not country. “The idea for us and for England is he comes back once he’s had that little bit of a break raring to go again,” Shakespeare said, adding that medical staff from both parties had discussed the issue. “It’s never been questioned, Jamie wants to play for England and for Leicester. The time now: it’s right to give him this break, just to give a little bit of a rest, to fully recover from this injury.” Ben Fisher

3) Conte needs to find a plan B

Antonio Conte returns home to Italy for a few days over the international window seeking “a rest”, but he will spend the next fortnight stewing on the defeat to Manchester City. He has retained a league title as a manager before, though never in a division where the elite are quite this reinforced. At Juventus in 2012 he had been braced for a renewed challenge from Milan. “But, instead, they sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain, so they became weaker,” he said. “It wasn’t simple second time, but it was easier. Here, from last season to this, you have big teams becoming bigger.” Manchester City demonstrated as much at Chelsea’s expense on Saturday, and Manchester United, only off the top on goal difference, appear just as imposing. Therein lies the justification for Conte’s frustration, aired within Stamford Bridge over the summer, at the need for more significant squad strengthening to keep ahead of the rest. The head coach always knew life was going to be harder this time round. Saturday proved it. Dominic Fifield

4) Everton need to go back to basics

Everton’s struggles continue. While not replacing Romelu Lukaku’s clinical finishing is obviously a problem so, too, is Ronald Koeman’s defence. Michael Keane was signed in the summer from Burnley for £30m. But statuesque defending made Burnley look more like Barcelona as they combined for a total of 24 passes through nine players for Jeff Hendrick to apply the finishing touch past Jordan Pickford. Morgan Schneiderlin allowed Hendrick to ease past him, leaving Pickford stranded, and the lack of desire from the Frenchman and the unit as a whole shows a defence badly out of form. At this stage last season Everton had conceded four goals and kept three clean sheets. They have now conceded 12. If Koeman cannot bring his side back to basing their success on being difficult to beat then, regardless of how well his expensive attacking force play, Everton will continue the struggle. Graham Searles

5) Huddersfield crash back down to earth

Amid a cornucopia of perks, the downside to being a footballer is that you have to do your growing-up in public. So far in his short career Dele Alli has attracted derision for some naughty challenges, a rude gesture and, on Saturday against Huddersfield Town, a devious dive. Those deeds were varying degrees of bad. But if they are the worst things that this 21-year-old has done while rising to the top of a fiercely competitive profession, and if he learns from them, then who among us can honestly hold them against him for long? As for Huddersfield, they entered this match with the second best defensive record in the Premier League, but ended with their first home defeat in the league this season. “They’re one of the best teams in the league. You could tell that,” the Huddersfield midfielder Aaron Mooy said after the defeat. Paul Doyle

6) Hodgson wants his players to show their mettle

Crystal Palace’s hammering at Manchester United makes it seven defeats from as many Premier League games, 17 goals conceded and none scored. Chelsea visit Selhurst Park on 14 October. So, how is the spirit among Roy Hodgson’s players? “It’s been excellent,” he said. “Obviously, it’s going to get more fractious because we put our messages across quite strongly and there will be some on the field who don’t pick up those messages as quickly as others. But that’s nothing I can’t deal with.” Yet the manager will again be without three key figures for Chelsea’s visit. “[Christian] Benteke won’t be back for a few weeks, so we still won’t have a recognised centre forward. Wilf Zaha probably won’t be back [each has a knee problem]. Ruben Loftus-Cheek [ineligible] can’t play. So it’s got to be the lads I put out there who go out there and run their bollocks off, if you excuse my expression, to try to do the best job they can possibly do,” Hodgson says. It may get worse before it gets any better. Jamie Jackson

7) Lack of finishing power haunting Klopp’s men

Time was when Newcastle v Liverpool was a match anticipated like no other. Two aggressive teams who were seemingly interested only in attacking and with centre-forwards who could be relied upon to deliver in front of goal. The thing is that time was more than 20 years ago. While Liverpool’s aspirations have not changed much in that time, namely a first league title since 1990, Newcastle had to recalibrate theirs long ago. The death of Freddy Shepherd last week, and his commemoration at this match, served as a reminder of the Magpies’ Icarus-like brush with the Premier League title in 1996. For Newcastle, this draw will have given them encouragement in their ability to hold out against better sides. For Liverpool, the failure to convert chances, once again, haunts them, like that clock that has been ticking for 27 years. Conrad Leach

8) Pellegrino needs a rethink on forward options

There is an argument that Southampton’s attackers lost so much confidence under Claude Puel last season that it will take time for Mauricio Pellegrino’s ideas to take hold. But after this defeat by Stoke City, concern is growing about Pellegrino’s flexibility. Southampton’s two wins have come against Crystal Palace and a 10-man West Ham, and scoring five goals in seven matches has not exactly set pulses racing at St Mary’s. Pellegrino has favoured a 4-2-3-1 system and Shane Long started as a lone striker against Stoke, with Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabbiadini both on the bench. Long’s tireless running can be useful in that role, but his selflessness is rendered ineffective by the inability of Southampton’s creative players to take advantage of the space created by the Irish forward. Might it be time for Pellegrino to think about pairing Long with Austin or Gabbiadini? Jacob Steinberg

9) West Brom treading water despite money spent
There was a feeling that West Brom had made some brilliant signings when the transfer window closed, and the excitement around the Hawthorns was tangible. A month later the view about Albion’s activity in the market has not changed but the same cannot be said for the mood. Albion sit 10th, which is respectable enough, but the broader picture shows only three wins from 19 league matches and, perhaps most frustratingly for the supporters, no shift in the way the team plays, despite £40m being spent. Tony Pulis is never going to ask his teams to open up and play gung-ho, but it is hard to escape the feeling that the group of players at his disposal should be capable of coming up with a better way of holding on to a 2-1 lead than time-wasting almost throughout the second half. The tactics were overly negative and came back to bite Albion when Watford scored a 95th-minute equaliser. Stuart James

10) Clement’s cupboard is bare in attack

It was always likely to be a difficult season for Swansea after the departures of Fernando Llorente and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Their combination was pivotal in Swansea’s fight to stay up and it is no surprise they are toiling without them. Paul Clement could not hide his frustration after the defeat to West Ham, which pushed Swansea into the bottom three. The manager was pleased with his team’s composed passing in midfield but he was unhappy with their decisions in the final third and critical of his forwards for their timidity. Wilfried Bony had one effort before being taken off at half-time, while Tammy Abraham and Jordan Ayew were quiet. Yet Clement must also shoulder some of the blame. Swansea created nothing at the London Stadium and three goals in seven games is damning. They lack imagination and width and will be in huge trouble if nothing changes. Jacob Steinberg

The Guardian Sport

Hire and Fire Culture Does Football No Favors

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London – My dad laughs about it now but having his name against the record for the shortest managerial reign is no joke. I very much doubt Frank de Boer, having been sacked by Crystal Palace after four games in charge, is feeling too jovial either.

For those who don’t remember, Leroy Rosenior was holding his press conference on returning to Torquay United for a second spell while behind the scenes the club had been bought by new owners. He was fired later that day and even now people ask him incredulously: “Aren’t you the guy who got a job and the sack on the same day?” He smiles and nods but I’ve seen the toll it takes when a proud and hard-working football man is humiliated by people who promise you the world and then throw you off the deep end when it suits them.

And I’m not even talking about Torquay – that was farcical and just an instance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The dismissal which hurt my dad most came at Brentford where he took over when the club were in disarray but was told he had complete control because they had no budget and needed to develop young players. De Boer was also told to bring through players at Palace and the common theme doesn’t end there.

Brentford’s directors employed my dad because they wanted to instil a new style of play – a philosophy of possession-based, expansive and exciting football which Dad has always believed in. He believed he would get time to put his ideas across to the players and staff, and was challenged to make his name as a coach by transforming the club.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t realised how dire the club’s finances were and that his record signing would be “won” by fans who had entered a competition sponsored by a fizzy drinks company. No matter, he stayed and put heart and soul into his job because he believed in himself and his ideas. Things went well initially but then results changed and so did he.

He’d come home from work and be withdrawn and silent for long periods. I saw my dad change from a man who felt blessed to be doing a job he loved to someone I could barely recognise. After about four months he was sacked because the same people who hired him to reverse the club’s fortunes were scared to keep the faith they’d shown in the first place.

From all accounts, it seems De Boer was sold a similar pitch at Crystal Palace and whether you think the decision was correct or not, we have to ask the question is the process of hiring and firing managers on a regular basis damaging our game?

Surely most clubs invest a significant amount of time researching and deliberating over the appointment of a new man at the head of their most important asset – the team. And in doing so, they commit to his methods and authority – even more so when much was trumpeted about De Boer’s footballing philosophy and his ability to change and improve Crystal Palace’s playing identity in the long term.

Surely four games is not the amount of time needed in order for those ideas to bear fruit. There seems to be a lack of responsibility regarding the appointment process – chairmen/directors need to be clear on exactly what they want. If survival in the Premier League is a club’s true ambition every season then there’s nothing wrong in stating that case rather than talking about completely changing their playing identity.

The lack of stability does not only hurt the coaches who are fired. You may see an upturn in performance or even league survival but in the long term clubs are left with players on expensive contracts who were bought for big transfer fees by previous managers and are now surplus to requirements and unable to be moved on.

Maybe a managerial transfer window, where coaches cannot be sacked but are locked in with their playing squad for that period of time, is the way forward – at least the constant game‑to‑game speculation would disappear and players would know that no matter the result of the next game, the man in charge would remain for the foreseeable future. This would reinforce the authority of the manager and so make clubs think about who they appoint in the first place, creating accountability at all levels where bad results don’t just land at the manager’s feet.

The boardroom isn’t the only place where people get twitchy in a bad spell. I’ve been in dressing rooms where the manager is under pressure and there are unhappy players, because they’re not playing every week, undermining everything he says and does in the knowledge that with a couple more poor results he’ll be gone.

This is where the phrase “he’s lost the dressing room” comes from but it’s also football at its most cynical. Neither is it just in the Premier League. This is happening – League Two and National League level managers are losing their jobs at an astonishing rate. We despair about how few homegrown managers are coming through to work at the top level but how many are afforded the chance to really formulate and execute their philosophy when they are constantly firefighting and fear they are three games from the sack?

We all talk about a desire to see free‑flowing, exciting and expansive games at every level but I’ve seen my father forced to sacrifice his philosophy in order to hang on to the job at Brentford. In doing so, he lost authenticity as a coach in order to satisfy the short-term demands of surviving in a job rather than flourishing in order to stay employed.

It’s easier and quicker to coach direct, safety-first, percentage football that’s not great on the eye but gains short-term results as opposed to playing a technical, expansive offensive game that needs time and belief to succeed but improves and benefits players and clubs in the long term.

I fear the overall quality of our national game will continue to struggle while this short-term policy of hire and fire continues to dominate and if you don’t believe me go ask my dad or the many other coaches who’ve lost their jobs as a result of it.

The Guardian Sport

Why Roy Hodgson could be Perfect for Palace

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London- When West Bromwich Albion players think back to the early days under Roy Hodgson, the memories that stick in the mind are of the shift in the intensity of their work on the training ground, the way they returned to the dressing rooms exhausted, and how their new manager never missed a trick. “I can see you’re walking, you’re not doing it,” was one of Hodgson’s favourite phrases as he worked time and again on team shape.

West Brom were Hodgson’s last job in club management before he left to take the England position in 2012, and the short but sweet spell he spent in charge at the Hawthorns provides a reasonable barometer for what to expect at Crystal Palace. The 70-year-old is now working at a club operating at a similar level and faced with some of the same challenges that confronted him in the Midlands.

Then, much like now, Hodgson had a reputation to rebuild after lasting only six months as the Liverpool manager. In another parallel between life at Selhurst Park and the Hawthorns, Hodgson took over a group of players at West Brom who were crying out for leadership and a more pragmatic approach. Rudderless under Roberto Di Matteo, who ran a laidback regime, they had lost 13 out of 18 matches and had failed to keep a clean sheet for six months when Hodgson rocked up.

West Brom turned to Hodgson because he was seen as a safe pair of hands who could give a struggling team some direction. The transfer window had closed, which meant Di Matteo’s successor would have to make the best of whatever he inherited. Dan Ashworth, who was the technical director at the time, was confident Hodgson would thrive in that situation because of his desire to be out on the training ground every day.

Whatever anyone thinks of Hodgson, that sort of thing is his forte. “If there are problems in the team in terms of organisation and structure, Roy will get down to work at them straight away,” says Terry Burton, who worked alongside Keith Downing on the back-room staff at West Brom and laughs as he recalls how the two of them were left “fighting to get the cones to put out” because Hodgson was so hands on.

It was all about the players knowing their jobs with and without the ball and everything Hodgson did on the training pitch had that in mind. “Some people are session coaches and some are team coaches,” Burton says. “Session coaches will put on a passing drill or a possession practice while team coaches will coach a function of the team, such as getting full-backs to support wide players or midfielders. In terms of the team coaches I’ve worked with, I would put Roy at the top. He’s very good at getting players to understand their role within the team.”

Burton has not got a bad word to say about Hodgson and that kind of feedback is indicative of the way many people at West Brom feel about a man who spent only 15 months in charge. It was interesting interviewing James Morrison a few years ago and hearing the Scotland international, who is not the sort of person to say things just for the sake of it, talk so highly of Hodgson.

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“Roy was a special guy and he taught me a lot: how to play midfield on the defensive side – backing up play, shuffling across, blocking up lines. He was very interesting, like one of those experienced men you see in a pub sometimes who you can go to for a chat,” Morrison said. “Roy probably laid a lot of the foundations at West Brom. He’s a real good man and I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”

Hodgson’s management style and way of working may not be to everyone’s liking, yet individually and collectively West Brom’s players reaped the rewards of all the hours put in on the training ground, where near enough everything they did related to a game situation. There was a big emphasis on working on the pattern of play in full-sided games, dividing the team into units in and out of possession, with no more than 10 core practises that Hodgson relied on to get his points across, which inevitably meant a lot of repetition.

By the end of the sessions his squad were mentally and physically drained. “All the players came off the pitch sweating, thinking we’d never worked that hard before,” Morrison said but they bought into what Hodgson was doing because they recognised the benefits. They picked up 20 points from 12 games under Hodgson in his first season in charge, climbing from 17th to 11th in the process. The following year they finished 10th.

An intelligent and well-read man, Hodgson was viewed at West Brom as someone who was just as comfortable holding a conversation in the boardroom as he was talking through ideas to a right-back on the training pitch. He formed a strong relationship with Ashworth, who would later follow him to the Football Association, and the two worked closely on player recruitment. Not the sort to take a punt on a player whom he knew little about, Hodgson adopted a safety-first approach to transfers at West Brom and preferred whenever possible to watch a target play live, travelling all over the country with Ashworth to give his verdict on a prospective signing.

Although staff and players found Hodgson’s enthusiasm infectious, especially on the training ground, where there was a sense he could not have been in a happier place (it is tempting to think he is much better suited to club rather than international management on that point alone), he also had an edge to him and was not afraid to light the fuse when things were not done right. There were no cups thrown in the dressing room but Hodgson got his point across to players passionately and forcefully when the need arose.

Generally, there were plenty of smiles during his time at the Hawthorns, where the level of expectation was nothing like as great as Liverpool, the media spotlight far less intense and the players receptive to his methods. Fast forward five or six years and Burton sees no reason to think the same will not be true at Palace.

“Certain coaches fit certain clubs,” he says. “And I think if you look at what Roy did at Fulham and West Brom, and you look at Palace and the type of coaches that they’ve had, from Alan Pardew to Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce – and Roy would be above them for me in terms of his coaching ability – they all work at the fundamentals of the game.

“Roy, I think, will do a really good job at Palace and I’m delighted for him, because I’d hate for his career to have been remembered for what happened with England last summer.”

The Guardian Sport

Kevin De Bruyne’s Perfect Touch Delights Pep Guardiola, Keeps Silvas at Bay

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London- Just before the hour mark, and as Gabriel Jesus was replaced by Leroy Sané amid applause from the home supporters on the back of a devastating display in front of goal, Kevin De Bruyne could be seen speaking with David Silva and Sergio Agüero. The Belgian went over to each in turn and appeared to be telling them what to do. It was impossible to pick up what he was saying, but given everything that had happened up until then, it would not have been a surprise to have learned that his message was a simple one: “Keep going, lads, I’ve got this.”

Manchester City’s biggest home win over Liverpool since September 1935 was a collective pummelling – and one aided by Sadio Mané’s initially controversial, but ultimately justified, sending-off – but what it highlighted amid the showers and sunshine of an early autumn afternoon is just how good De Bruyne is, and just how central he could be, in more ways than one, to City reclaiming their status as champions.

The 26-year-old was sensational here, assisting City’s first two goals, scored by Agüero and Jesus, playing a role in their fourth – put away by Sané – and generally providing a muscular, intelligent and technically excellent display from an advanced midfield position.

De Bruyne did not stand out by a distance among those in blue, but he did stand out, and at times appeared to be playing a completely different game to everyone else, such was the time and space he was able to find on the pitch. Little wonder Agüero and Silva listened so intently to his instructions – they knew as much as anyone that De Bruyne was in control of proceedings; that he well and truly had this.

“I am so happy with his performance,” said Pep Guardiola of City’s No17. “He is good on balls on the feet. He is good running, attacking the space. He is a complete player, one of our captains.”

With his two assists here, De Bruyne has now provided 39 in all competitions since arriving from Wolfsburg for £51m in August 2015. There have also been 23 goals and numerous man-of-the-match displays. Yet he cannot consider himself undroppable, and especially while Guardiola continues to deploy a system containing a three-man midfield in which Fernandinho provides the defensive support to two playmakers.

De Bruyne is competing to fill one of those spots not only with David Silva but also Bernado Silva, who is increasingly getting up to speed after his late arrival from the Confederations Cup and having signed from Monaco for £43.6m in May. Then there is Yaya Touré and Ilkay Gündogan to consider, with the latter returning to City’s matchday squad on Saturday for the first time since tearing cruciate knee ligaments in December. The competition is fierce and standards for those involved in the battle for recognition simply cannot drop.

De Bruyne appears to be aware of that if his display here is anything to go by. Deployed alongside David Silva for a fourth league match in succession, he tormented those in red from start to finish, starting off in a right-sided position but continuously moving across and through the lines. On 20 minutes he popped up on the left and caused Liverpool’s right-back Trent Alexander Arnold such concern with his incisive running that the teenager, so assured so far this season, found himself with no other option but to yank the midfielder down just outside the area and subsequently receive a yellow card.

Five minutes later came De Bruyne’s first assist and it told you so much about his assurance and ability. There was a touch to control the ball after it came his way from Fernandinho inside the centre circle and then, with nonchalant ease, a perfectly weighted through ball to set Agüero running free through the heart of the visitors’ defence. The Argentinian’s goal made it six from six home league games against Liverpool.

The second assist, in first-half stoppage time, was more straightforward but no less perfectly executed – a left-wing cross that Jesus fired past Simon Mignolet via a header from an unmarked position – and then, on 77 minutes, came the pass to Sané, which eventually led to the German scoring the first of his two goals. Again De Bruyne was in a central position and, again, Liverpool had no idea how to handle him.

It should be noted that post-Mané’s sending off Liverpool were incredibly poor, all but giving up en route to their heaviest defeat under Jürgen Klopp, but that should not take away from City’s performance, one full of swagger and ruthlessness, and which suggests that for all their defensive frailties, which again were on show here, they have enough in attack to win the title.

And at the heart of it was De Bruyne, the reserved figure who catches the eye time and time again. Drop him if you dare, Pep. “This season he is in a good mood, maybe because he is a father,” said Guardiola. “We are a lucky club to have Kevin.”

The Guardian Sport

Ederson’s Bravery Exposes Liverpool’s Flaws on Jürgen Klopp’s Day to Forget

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London- If you can meet a 5-0 thrashing and a messy 1-1 draw and treat those two impostors exactly the same; well, there is a fair chance you will be a testy, process-obsessed Catalan super-manager, my son. Six months ago Pep Guardiola described Manchester City’s draw with Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium as “one of the best moments of my career”. Fast forward to Saturday lunchtime and City’s 5-0 shellacking of the same opponents on the same ground left Guardiola a little restless, a little cagey in his judgments.

City’s manager was pleased and talkative but still rueful over the opening half-hour when Liverpool perhaps shaded it and when, if you had had to bet on a player being sent off, it would surely have been Nicolás Otamendi, whose performance combined ponderousness with a blind scything violence whenever he got near the ball.

City led 1-0 in the period before Sadio Mané’s red card. The goal came via Kevin De Bruyne’s perfect fizzed through-pass, some baggy defending and a fine finish from Sergio Agüero. But Liverpool had already gouged City open three times down their left side as Mohamed Salah sprinted into space between Benjamin Mendy and Otamendi, both players struggling with defensive positioning in the 3-5-2 system.

And so the wider narrative of this game had been settled long before the final whistle was blown. Received wisdom will say Mané’s red card killed the game, placing an asterisk against all that followed. Liverpool’s best player was sent off for catching Ederson with a recklessly raised boot as he ran through on goal. There are plenty who will defend an attacker’s right to challenge for the ball. Sadly for Mané these do not include football’s rule-makers, who deem dangerous contact involving a raised boot to be a strict liability offence. Mané was distraught as he left the field and has since apologised profusely for injuring his opponent in an “accidental” collision.

There are two things worth saying about the game’s central incident. Firstly, this was not some entirely random occurrence divorced from the skills and match-winning qualities of both teams. Ederson was exceptionally brave in coming for the ball. His fine goalkeeping was rewarded with a goalscoring chance snuffed out, a kick in the face and ultimately Mané’s sending off.

In that moment City’s player was more decisive and better at playing within the rules. In that moment the decision to replace Claudio Bravo with the more sprightly Ederson also found a reward – good managerial judgment from Guardiola, good play by Ederson, poor judgment from Mané. None of this sounds like a random event or bad luck, any more than poaching goals or winning tackles or making saves. The red card did not kill Liverpool’s game. Mané losing that duel to Ederson killed Liverpool’s game.

The second point worth making is that it was only a red card, not a mass contraction of the bubonic plague. Liverpool’s response was to collapse completely, conceding territory, possession and four more goals, two to Leroy Sané, who had only 22 touches but provided a bravura end note with a beautiful left-foot shot into the top corner as an exhausted midfield stood off him.

Red card or not, Jürgen Klopp did not have his best day. Liverpool are missing Nathaniel Clyne but exposing Trent Alexander-Arnold to an opponent and an occasion like this looked a vote of confidence too far. In the event Liverpool’s right-back had a brutal, exhausting afternoon. No shame there: his opposite number Mendy comes in just behind Marcelo on the list of best attacking left-backs in the world. Either one of James Milner, for his experience, or Joe Gomez, for his more specialist defensive skills, would surely have been a better option.

At the end Klopp was also strangely vague. In his press conference he seemed to think Liverpool’s next game, against Sevilla, was on Tuesday, not Wednesday, and had to be corrected. He was unsure whether his team were behind or not when Mané went off. Call them minor moments of forgetfulness but football managers, and indeed Klopp himself, tend to be razor sharp on these details – out of necessity, too. There are times you have to bristle and fib and “win” the aftermath of a 5-0 defeat. Alex Ferguson may have been a far less reasonable presence but he would have walked out bristling and full of motivating excuses. Klopp just looked drained by the day.

Similarly the best parts of City’s game may also go a little under the radar thanks to that red card. The defence did look vulnerable with Mané on the pitch. But playing against 10 men was perhaps a valuable exercise in itself, if only because for the first time this City team looked not just like a fine attacking unit but like a Pep-issue entity. At their best his Barcelona and Bayern teams would make opponents look like this even with 11 men: depleted, exhausted, incidental obstacles to the pass-and-move game. If this felt like a training game it was still a valuable training game and a moment when some of those vital cogs began to turn, the passing rhythms to settle.

Best of all, and to Guardiola’s obvious delight, the wide areas of City’s team were finally fizzing with intent. “With the full backs we have the energy, our wingers can play more inside, they can score more goals, we have more people in the middle as a result,” Guardiola said afterwards. “Kevin and [David] Silva are different players, they make things, they create. But they are not dreaming of scoring goals in the middle. It’s very important our wide players, Like Leroy, have that sense of ’I must score a goal’.” Penetration from the flanks is vital to Guardiola’s style. Red card or not, there was a clear sign at the Etihad of how City will hope to keep on winning from here.

The Guardian Sport

A Footballer Has Set Up a Careers Site to Help Retired Athletes Find Work

sport

London- Football dressing rooms can be ruthless places. The social hierarchy is established, the wisecracks are often merciless and there aren’t many moments for introspection or worrying about what to do once your career finishes. Exeter City forward Robbie Simpson understands the culture but at the age of 32 he has realised that a change in tone could help his fellow athletes. Simpson, who has played in all four divisions below the Premier League, has set up Life After Professional Sport (LAPS), an organisation that aims to help former professional athletes find full-time work.

“In professional football, it is very difficult to show any vulnerability whatsoever, never mind in the dressing room. It’s a place with banter and bravado. All of that is great, but also people don’t want to show any fear or even talk about what will happen next after their careers are over, which needs to change. At League Two level, the reality is, after it’s over, you’re going to have to get a job almost straight away, so we need to start this conversation now and think of life after sport.”

Simpson is a relative rarity in football. He had balanced non-league football at Cambridge United with his sports science and mathematics degree until 2007, when he graduated and joined Championship club Coventry City as a full-time professional. Simpson made his competitive debut in the League Cup against Notts County. He came on as a substitute in the 73rd minute and scored in the 78th minute. But things were about to get even better.

After a handful of substitute performances in the Championship, Simpson made his first start for Coventry against Manchester United in the League Cup. A few days after his graduation ceremony he was lining up at Old Trafford against a central defensive pairing of Gerard Piqué and Jonny Evans. United would go on to win the Premier League and the Champions League that season, but they were knocked out of the League Cup by Coventry City.

“I think the whole of Loughborough University was there at that game,” remembers Simpson. “I had been balancing my studies with non-league football, the perfect compromise I thought. Then after a great season in non-league, I got the opportunity to sign with Coventry and eventually gain that first start at Old Trafford. It was just ridiculous having been a student not long before. My path to the full-time game wasn’t normal, but it did give me a good perspective of life outside the game.”

Simpson’s degree earned him the nickname “the student” at Coventry. “It always made me laugh, I was no different to any of these lads. But I found myself, at 22, being brought into these pseudo-intellectual debates in the dressing room to settle an argument because I had been to uni. I was also asked by these senior pros for advice on tax returns. It was all quite bemusing for a young guy.”

In Simpson’s experience, football clubs rarely offer pathways to employment after the final whistle has blown on their players’ careers. He commends the efforts of the Professional Footballers’ Association but thinks more could be done. “We work with a lot of different sports in LAPS and rugby particularly impresses me. Saracens, who are at the top of their game professionally, are also running day visits to the trading floor in the city to give players a taste of something else. We need to encourage that wider perspective across sports.”

Simpson has enjoyed a successful football career at clubs across the country, including Huddersfield Town, Oldham Athletic, Leyton Orient, Cambridge United and, currently, Exeter City. However, after one difficult summer four years ago when he was out of contract and looking for a club, he began to think about his future: could he get a job if his football career was over? He wasn’t fully convinced. His professional work experience was all in football and he started to wonder whether his skills had any value elsewhere.

“I had that fear one summer when I was out of contract that this could be it. I had dedicated the last number of years to professional football, but I was lucky in that I had a degree at least. What about the people who have left school at 16 with no qualifications to dedicate themselves to football? I knew that there were transferable skills available and after linking up with a friend who works in recruitment, we set up LAPS to create a vital resource.”

LAPS is an online tool available to former athletes who are searching for a career after the final whistle has blown on their careers. It contains a job board, networking opportunities, advice and case studies of former athletes who have moved into different lines of work. Simpson has spoken to hundreds of athletes since setting up LAPS. Many of them mental health issues and financial concerns and he wants to empower them.

“Not everyone can be an athlete and one of the things that makes them stand out in their profession is their commitment to a set goal. We want to inspire these men and women to think that there is absolutely a life after sport, and we are going to do everything we can to show them that there can be a fulfilling professional life after they’ve stopped as an athlete.”

Simpson is running LAPS while playing in League Two. Over the last few years he has seen positive changes in the attitudes of his colleagues. Eleven of his team-mates at Exeter City have either finished or are completing degree-level studies. Simpson’s former nickname “the student” makes little sense at his club these days and he is determined to help more athletes find productive careers after sport.

The Guardian Sport

Footballers Living on the Breadline: Low Wages, Short Contracts, No Security

London- Manchester City made two players the most expensive defenders in history last month. Kyle Walker’s became the costliest defender in the game when he made a £50m move from Tottenham and, just 10 days later, Benjamin Mendy took the record by joining City for £52m. The day before City signed Mendy they also tied up a £26.5m deal for Danilo, Real Madrid’s second choice right-back, taking their spending on full-backs to £128.5m in the space of a fortnight.

City’s trio of new defenders will each earn around £100,000 per week, a sum that has become common at the richest clubs in the Premier League. However, away from the moneyed elite at the top of European football, the majority of footballers live in a very different world. FIFPro, the union that represent 65,000 players across the world, say 45% of their members earn less than $1,000 a month.

Former Croatia Under-23 international Josip Vukovic has also been looking for a new club this summer but his situation is in stark contrast to the new signings at City. He was released by RNK Split at the end of the season as the club had been relegated two divisions from the top Croatian league for non-payment of wages. As many as 41% of footballers have been paid their wages late and, unfortunately for Vukovic, this was not the first time an employer had let him down.

“At my previous club, Istra 1961, I went for five months without being paid,” he says. “I was injured for a few months while I was at Istra and had to pay the private medical costs of around €10,000 myself for treatment of a pelvic bone. The club then suggested that my monthly wages of €4,000 should be cut by 50% because of the injury.”

Vukovic, who grew up in the youth set-up at Hajduk Split but never broke into the first team, wanted to stay in Croatia but knew that only a few clubs are guaranteed to pay wages on time so looked abroad. “It’s very unfair and I’m very nervous about my situation,” he says. “The life of a football player here is unstable but it is my whole life. I have made a lot of sacrifices since being a youth-team player to do this. The clubs just want to buy and sell players – they want easy money. They are not being professional. They expect us to be professional at every level, but they are not themselves.”

Earlier this week Vukovic found a new club, Vitez of the Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he is pleased to be earning €2,000 a month. He is on a short-term deal – until December 2017 – but there is nothing unusual about that; globally, the average length of a footballer’s contract is just 22.6 months – less than two years.

David Low was also on the lookout for a new club this summer but, unlike Vukovic, he has the added struggle of knowing his career is winding down. The 33-year-old had a late start in football as he had to complete two years of national service in his native Singapore but he has still crammed a lot of experiences into his time as a player.

He has played in a dizzyingly wide range of countries over the past decade, including Australia, New Zealand, USA (where his club folded), Switzerland (where his club went bankrupt), Hungary (where he left due to unpaid wages), Germany, Italy, Thailand (where he left due to unpaid wages), Iceland (where he left due to restrictions on non-EU players) and even Mongolia.

Low’s most recent port of call was Cameroon, where he joined top-flight club Canon Yaoundé. Like so many of his contracts, this one lasted for only four months. When it expired, he move to another Cameroonian club, Cosmos de Bafia, on another short-term deal.

“During my time in Cameroon, some of the best players – including internationals – were earning between $1,000 and $3,000 per month, but the majority were on less than $1,000 per month,” says Low. “It is the same in Asian countries, such as Malaysia and Thailand, as well as Eastern Europe, where clubs are going bankrupt or are financially unstable. Most players prefer to keep quiet about this so they can get another contract. It is an illusion for footballers everywhere today – they are drawn to the glamour of it all without knowing the reality behind it.”

Low’s perspective is understandably coloured by bitter experience. “Football is a very tough business, very harsh. Football fans think it is very pretty, very glamorous but it’s not like that. Contracts are not respected. In some countries they just sack the player. Many of the football bosses are in business or government – and some of them are corrupt. Lots of players are afraid to stand up for themselves because they think it will affect their careers. Local football federations and sports ministers must lay down the law and protect the players.”

“Even in Western Europe it is very hard for players in lower divisions. People think Europe is the holy grail but a lot of lower league players are suffering. It’s a cruel world. Only the strongest survive. The richest clubs should help the poorer clubs. There’s an imbalance in the money.”

The inequality in the game has at least caught the attention of Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin, who says he is considering the introduction of a salary cap to close the gap between football’s richest clubs and the rest. Speaking earlier this summer Ceferin warned that the wealth gap was “increasing dangerously” and that something would have to be done. “In future, we will have to take into serious consideration the possibility of limiting clubs’ budgets for players’ wages,” he said. “The wealthiest clubs are only getting richer and the gap between them and the rest is getting bigger. If we succeed it will, in my opinion, be an historic change.”

Ceferin’s words came before Paris Saint-Germain signed Neymar for £197m and bumped his wages up to £520,000 a week. You wonder what Vukovic and Low feel when they see a fellow professional earning more in a month than they will make in their entire careers. As Low says: “We move from contract to contract with a lot of insecurity. It is a very risky job as the money is never guaranteed.”

The Guardian Sport

We All Suffer When Matches Are Played With The Transfer Window Open

London- It’s that time of year again folks … so who’s excited? Are you ready for the excitable sports reporters wearing yellow? Ready to see hordes of football supporters hanging around training grounds waiting to see a glimpse of a new signing or making inappropriate signs in the background shot of camera?

I know I can’t wait to see another shot of our ’Arry hanging out of his car window telling reporters about his “triffick” new signing, either. Transfer deadline day for all of us has become a staple part of our traditional footballing diet, where we sit in front of a TV screen hoping that yellow bar at the bottom of our screen tells us about a new record signing for our club and that the “missing link” to our team’s ambitions for the season has been snapped up in the nick of time.

It is an exciting, symbolic day for the fans, which gives them an indication of their respective football club’s strengths and weaknesses before embarking on another season of hope.

For us players it is a little bit different. Imagine spending your summer where every time you switch on the TV, read the newspaper or even check your social media there’s a different, more “exciting”, more expensive player being linked to your position in the team, ready to take your job, maybe forcing you to move on, finding not only a new club but a new home for your family.

Imagine getting a call two days before the transfer window closes and being told your time at the club is up, you need to find a new job and you’re not needed any more. You are now dependent on your agent to conjure up a minor miracle. And, oh, he’s got about 48 hours to do it.

Then you turn to your wife and kids and break the news that their lives – schools, friends, home – are about to be turned upside down and all you can do is hope that the unknown location of your new club enables you and your family to settle down as quickly and smoothly as possible.

And then you’re sitting in a hotel room at 11.30pm praying that the paperwork has been completed and processed in time for you to sign a contract that not only affects your playing career but the lives of all of those around you who you support and care for. If you miss that deadline by a minute your life is completely up in the air and you have no idea what to say to your loved ones.

(Not so) funnily enough, I have been through all of those situations at one point or another throughout my career and trust me, the fear, paranoia and trepidation an impending deadline day can bring affects players, families and dressing rooms up and down this country. At this time every year as players leave the morning training session to go home, the in-joke between us always is: “Keep that phone on!” or: “Maybe see you tomorrow,” because we’re all wary of the fact that any one of our lives could dramatically be changed by just a call or email.

You would think that in today’s multimillion-pound football industry every transfer is planned meticulously and worked on for days and weeks on end but in reality, as the deadline approaches and teams are searching for plan F, G or H in their hunt for a position rather than A, B or C, transfer deals can be reached in a matter of minutes, leaving that player in question in a situation that he could never have foreseen.

In recent weeks, a lot has been made of the proposal of the transfer window closing before the start of the season. I completely agree that if all clubs throughout Europe were to adhere to an agreed earlier date before the start of the competitive season it would be beneficial to managers, players, clubs and even supporters.

For all of the reasons I have listed above I know that at every football club there are players who have had their “heads turned” by bigger clubs with huge, life-changing financial incentives but at the same time are asked to focus on the task in hand at their football club at the start of a season. There are also players playing competitive matches knowing that their football club is in negotiations with another player who is in line to replace them in the squad and in turn force them out. There are players who are even subconsciously worried about injury while playing in a competitive match and then wrecking their chances of a move to a bigger club. This situation is not fair to managers trying to win games, team-mates who want to do well or supporters who pay their hard-earned cash to watch their heroes at least give 100% to win a game of football.

Now in a perfect world we say: “These are professionals who should do the job they are asked to.” I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment except that football – like any industry – does not operate in a perfect world.

This is still a game played by people, with families, with ambitions for what is a short career, with different personalities and different motivations. It is impossible to guarantee the focus of every member of a squad in competitive matches when a huge transfer cloud hangs above them. For these reasons it’s time to close shop that little bit earlier.

The Guardian Sport

The Numbers are a Glittering Legacy of Wayne Rooney’s England Career

London- There is an irony that Wayne Rooney, a player plenty, including the England manager, had considered surplus to requirements last season, has chosen to retire from international football just as the national team were wondering whether they might be in need of him again. Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley are in rehabilitation. Other forwards have yet to find form this term. Cue Gareth Southgate’s telephone call this week, the tone of which, Rooney implied, was that the former captain’s presence might be beneficial in the squad for the forthcoming qualifiers against Malta and Slovakia.

Yet, in the six weeks since he held court in the People’s Club Lounge at Goodison Park and insisted he had no intention of retiring from the national set-up, something had changed. Perhaps that eye-catching start to his second coming at Everton, with goals in his first two Premier League appearances for Ronald Koeman’s side and energy aplenty in the draw at the Etihad Stadium on Monday, convinced him he should concentrate his efforts on inspiring an exciting and emerging force; to put Everton first and rekindle that old love affair after the messy divorce from his boyhood club 13 years ago.

To do that will require focus as well as fitness. A forward approaching his 32nd birthday would easily recall how beneficial quitting the international stage had been for Paul Scholes, his former team-mate at Manchester United, in prolonging a club career. The same could be said for Alan Shearer. Southgate was left with the impression from their conversation that Rooney partly puts this month’s resurgence in club form down to the fact he enjoyed a proper summer break, albeit with spinning classes interrupting his family holidays and a personal trainer in tow. His wife, Coleen, is expecting the couple’s fourth child next year. Maybe the Russia World Cup, which he had insisted would mark his swansong, might not have been quite so appealing in that context.

Then there is the issue of his role within the set-up. Southgate wants two players for each position in his side, but Rooney, even rejuvenated on Merseyside, was always unlikely to have displaced either Dele Alli in attacking midfield or Harry Kane up front in a first-choice England lineup. A new generation of players is making its mark. A veteran of six major tournaments had no desire either to block the progress of “the exciting players Gareth is bringing through” or, indeed, be reduced to a bit-part role. This was a chance for a clean break, a departure on his own terms. Given the service he has put in since that debut at 17 years and 111 days, he deserved that much at the very least.

In truth, and even with Monday’s crisp finish against City fresh in the memory, his retirement does not come as a surprise. The tributes had already been written, penned in Ljubljana last autumn when he was first dropped from Southgate’s side, and again in March when he was omitted from the squad, despite insisting he was fit, for the friendly in Germany and World Cup qualifier against Lithuania. It had long since become apparent England were moving on, particularly with Rooney’s contribution at Old Trafford no longer as integral. So, in his absence, the time felt right for reflections on an international career which had spanned 13 years and set him apart.

The numbers are his most glittering legacy. No Englishman can match his 53 goals for his country, the first of which was plundered at the age of 17 years and 317 days in Skopje while Macedonia fans burned England flags up in the stands. He captained his country at 24, no other outfield player boasts as many as his 119 caps while he has had 104 team-mates down the years. Those are exceptional tallies that set him apart, and the fact that his involvement at this level rather petered out over the last 11 months should not sully that record. When people consider David Beckham’s England career, they do not fixate over the succession of token cameos from the bench as his playing days wound down. So what if 10 of the midfielder’s last 12 caps were gained as a substitute? Rooney, at a fiercely competitive level, was the go-to man for five national managers.

And yet, for all the records as evidence of the longevity of his quality, the debate over what Rooney might have been will never truly subside. That he never illuminated a major finals after that jaw-dropping debut tournament, at Euro 2004, will forever count against him. The tearaway street footballer, fresh out of Croxteth, had set the bar so high in those early years and, while he was establishing himself as United’s record goalscorer and winning five Premier League titles and a Champions League, England saw the best of him only in qualifying. Injury or indiscipline blighted him at finals, and each major tournament, from Poland to Brazil, saw him confronted by the same topic for discussion: “Is this finally the moment? Can you finally rekindle that form from 2004 and make an impact at a finals?”

Underachievement in tournaments remains a collective issue, of course, but Rooney was the talisman; the figure considered England’s one true world-class talent. With that came more expectation, more pressure, and those moments when he occasionally cracked under the weight of it all: flashpoints in Croatia and Cape Town spring to mind. Yet he should not become the scapegoat for English failings. There are plenty of others who have thrived with a club side but failed to hoist their national team to the ultimate prizes, even if that regret will linger with him longest on the outside looking in. That desire “to have been part of a successful England tournament side” will nag at him forever.

Maybe Southgate can inspire such success in future, but it will not be with Rooney in the ranks. The time is right and everyone should benefit, from the youngsters making their mark in the national team, to Everton and the veteran himself. He can sit back and reflect with pride at those records he established. His personal achievements will take some beating.

The Guardian Sport