Phil Jones: Still Young and Still Learning

TFN debutant and Blackburn Rovers fan Felix Reed assesses the career of Phil Jones…

Phil Jones has recently found himself on the wrong end of some negative publicity because he’s taken a few corners and pulls a face that launched a thousand Sportbible-worthy memes. However, given that Jones turns 23 next month and that his current contract has less than 18 months to run, it might be time to have a more serious appraisal of where his career is heading. He still has some way to go if he is to fulfil Sir Alex Ferguson’s prediction that he could be the greatest player in Manchester United’s history.

Even as a fan watching Jones make his Blackburn debut as a fresh faced 18-year-old, his talent was apparent. Coming up against the 2010 version of Didier Drogba and Chelsea, his positional awareness, speed and tenacity were remarkable. One tackle he made on Frank Lampard will live long in the memory. When locally-born, 18-year-old academy graduates are making their league debut and absolutely smashing through established England internationals it does tend to stick in the memory. Continue reading

Sow Little Respect – Remembering Kenwyne Jones and the Pig’s Head

Making his TFN debut, Will Lawrence reflects on a prank gone wrong at Stoke City…

Back in spring 2013, The Beast was simply the childish nightmare of some stranded boys in the classic novel Lord of the Flies. Premier league footballers, too caught up in the making of daisy chains and the arranging of cones into flower patterns, were blissfully unaware of the sinister secret that lay within their sport.

But one day in May, The Beast was summoned to what became one of the darkest and most desperate places on earth: the Stoke City dressing room. The culprit was reportedly Glen Whelan, known previously as an average midfield player, but since exposed as the ruler of a savage, otherworldly kingdom which exists somewhere near the M6.

Having not been satisfied with the egging of Michael Owen’s Mercedes, The Beast demanded the sacrifice of Kenwyne Jones’ dignity. “We are going to have fun on this island. Understand?”. Whelan and friends duly delivered. The Trinidad born striker found a bloody, severed pig’s head hidden in his locker. Jones is a Rastafarian and so does not eat pork. He was understandably furious, going on to hit the target with a well­-aimed brick smashed through Whelan’s windscreen. Continue reading

The Joy of Headers

Ally Moncrief returns to The False Nine with an appreciation of headed goals…

Growing up in a part of the country where people take genuine pleasure in fighting, in the spirit of self-preservation you learn to recognise a few things and one of the earliest lessons is to avoid at all costs the lad that likes to stick the nut in (that means headbutting in case you didn’t know). Where a punch can be evaded and swiftly recovered from, a well-timed headbutt is going to hurt and continue to hurt. Now whilst violence is clearly not to be encouraged there is something awe-inspiring about these dispensers of broken noses, there is something unnatural and wild about a headbutt, it is out of the ordinary and is impossible to defend against.

The same can be said of football’s version of the headbutt, the slightly less violent, header.

Headers can be both brutal and beautiful, used as a means of attack or defense and are the great leveller of football. They are also sadly unfashionable these days, unloved and unadmired. Often referred to as ‘aerial duels’ in these days of Americanised phrases, that moniker may seem degrading to such a majestic act but in fact merely serves to reassert it’s greatness. The key word is ‘duel’ for there is nothing in football apart from a penalty where the game is reduced, however fleetingly, to a straight fight between two participants. One will win and one will lose, the very essence of the sport. Continue reading

Myth busting the Africa Cup of Nations


Jonny Singer reports from Bata, Equatorial Guinea on some of the myths surrounding the perception of African football…

The majority of European fans, and English fans in particular, watch very little African football. Our experiences tend to be based around World Cups, the odd player who plays in our leagues, and a passing interest in the Africa Cup of Nations every couple of years.

It is therefore not surprising that, while everyone here in Equatorial Guinea has warned against backing the Ivory Coast, in the UK they remain the bookies’ favourite.

Who cares that they conceded 11 times in six qualifying games? They have Yaya and Kolo Toure, Wilfried Bony, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, Serge Aurier, Serey Die. We’ve heard of all those players – they must be good.

So when minnows Guinea, a country whose only English-based player is Sheffield Wednesday’s Kamil Zayatte, took the lead on Tuesday night, it might have come as a bit of a shock. It’s highly likely that those punters who put money on this tournament from the UK are going to be parted with it – and not inconceivable that it might even happen during the group stage.

But misconceptions about African football run deeper than not knowing which teams are in form. There are two myths that have somehow survived about the game on this continent that have very little basis. First, that the standard of refereeing here is significantly lower than in the European game, and secondly, that the goalkeepers are something of a joke. Continue reading

Chelsea and Real Madrid: Are title chasers at their most vulnerable when they’re ‘Invincible’?

Simon Smith looks at the narrative surrounding title chasers and the aura of invincibility which made Real Madrid and Chelsea more vulnerable…

After yet another episode of self-congratulation in the endless carousel that is the Ronaldo-Messi show, Ballon d’or finalists Leo and Cristiano returned to business as usual this week with headline dominating performances and five goals between them. Real Madrid have had to contend with another reshuffle of their squad this season following some classic Perez-ing in the summer; he may be the only club president in European Football the British public recognise. The narrative has been much the same as last season too; Ancelotti’s masterclass in ego management, tactical ingenuity and flexibility of approach that has allowed for a near seamless inclusion of James and Kroos into an already star studded side.

And yet this expertise, the ability to field a front six as ridiculous as Isco-Kroos-Bale-Ronaldo-James-Benzema as Real had the audacity to start with in the World Club Cup final, has become in recent weeks almost a stick to beat Madrid with. Questions of fatigue in the squad have cast a spotlight on the lack of rotation. As impressive as Real have been since their early season struggles, as unreal as the all competitions win streak became, the League is not only not beyond Barcelona yet, but likewise local rivals Atleti.

The thorn in Ancelotti’s side is not that Barcelona have failed to implode during a period of off-pitch crisis; it isn’t the way Messi-Suarez-Neymar has shown flickering signs of becoming a real and viable strategy in recent matches; it’s that all this has happened almost by accident. Barcelona have hardly been devoid of strategy this season, but the starting XI has yet to remain unchanged in consecutive league fixtures. The record of having 25 different starting lineups this season is staggering to the point where one wonders if you would stumble upon that if you actually tried to. Continue reading

Football narratives: a departure

TFN’s Alex Stewart returns with a column on football’s dreaded “narrative”…

Football is confusing, isn’t it? I mean, take Arsenal. Arsenal are shit, aren’t they? We all know that. They’ve a porous defence, weak full-backs who can’t head the ball, injury problems galore, and Arsene Wenger is so confused about who to buy he’s actually taking suggestions by text. Sure, they’re probably top six this season, but only because everyone else is so woeful. And Manchester City are fantastic, right? They’ve qualified for the next round of the Champions League at long last, they’ve got the best striker in the Premier League and they’ve just bought another really, really good one. Vincent Kompany is more than a footballer, he’s a heroic saviour of all that is good and decent in this world, as well as being an elegant, handsome man to boot.

And then Arsenal go and beat City at home and suddenly, aren’t City shit? The Vincent Kompany rare error is becoming the Pepe Reina rare error, according to someone on Twitter. Forget the strikers: City are a one-man team who always lose when Yaya is away on duty with his national side. They have no plan B and no way of rousing themselves from their indolent, slightly apathetic superiority complex and when pushed, often fall over. And aren’t Arsenal amazing? I mean, Alexis Sanchez is the best player in the league, and Wenger was absolutely right to stick with Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud and bring in David Ospina; the man is a genius. And Santi’s Cazorla’s not lazy; he’s just been saving himself for the big occasions. Continue reading

Why is this the first Manchester City and Chelsea title race?

James Dutton looks at why it has taken so long for Manchester City and Chelsea to dominate the Premier League, before drawing some links to the Dark Knight Trilogy…

I was asked a question on a recent uMAXit podcast episode by Raj Bains which momentarily threw me a little bit. Written down the question reads:

“Can you see other teams growing to become a larger part of the conversation next season? Or is our title now just a competition between Sheikh and oligarch?”

This threw me in the sense that the answer was, pretty obviously, an unequivocal yes to the latter part. Which led me to wonder why, in 2015, has this only just become the case, where it’s very difficult to argue a case for the next Premier League champions to not be owned by a sheikh or an oligarch?

Why has it taken the best part of seven years for it to be the case that the two richest clubs in the league are unequivocally significantly better-equipped and now destined to carve up the next five league titles between themselves? It says as much about the sheer force of will of Sir Alex Ferguson to sustain Manchester United up until his retirement, and the freak of nature that was Liverpool’s 2013-14 season, as it does the failure of the two super-clubs to stamp down their muscle. Continue reading