Leeds United: If ever there was an advert for fan ownership, this is it

Kyle Hulme reports on the potential of Leeds United’s fan ownership…

As I began to write about an ambitious new initiative designed to give fans a stake in Leeds United, news of the suspension of Steve Thompson, Neil Redfearn’s assistant, began to fill my Twitter feed. It upset me; not because I had to delete the words I had already written, but because it served as a reminder that even when you think you’ve turned a corner, sometimes the madness can follow you too.

Thompson was widely acknowledged to have been a key factor of Leeds’ recent upturn in form which saw fans stop shouting about relegation and start whispering of the playoffs. His influence on the club can’t be overstated – from broader impacts such as simply easing the pressure on Redfearn to more specialised focuses like all-but resurrecting the career of Luke Murphy. Yet all of that seemingly matters for nothing as today he’s been suspended until the end of the season and the option to retain him won’t be exercised. It’s a move that has seen Neil Redfearn question his future at the club, and one of several moves that only serve to unite the fanbase against their current owners – which may be the only silver lining to come out of this decision.

In terms of mobilising supporters against the current regime, the timing couldn’t be better. Continue reading

How the Real Madrid experience has damaged Jose Mourinho and Chelsea

TFN editor James Dutton looks at how Jose Mourinho’s bitter experience at Real Madrid has defined his management back at Chelsea…

“The only friend I have in this dressing room is Granero… and I’m not even sure that I can trust him any more. You’ve left me all on my own. You’re the most treacherous squad I’ve had in my life. Nothing more than sons of bitches.”

Real Madrid changed Jose Mourinho. The bitter, twisted and paranoid Mourinho that has stalked the Stamford Bridge touchline since the turn of the year is not the one that departed Milan in 2010, a European champion for the second time and ready to be feted by the biggest club in world football.

Sure, Mourinho has never been a saint. At Porto and his first spell with Chelsea there was plenty of evidence of the dark, underhand tactics that so riled Graeme Souness on Wednesday night. But Madrid was a new experience for him, it challenged him in ways he had never come across before. The insubordination that he met at Real Madrid, the dressing room cliques that festered and chronically undermined his final season in the Spanish capital, have resonated with him more than anything he has ever encountered in his glittering managerial career.

He proclaimed himself “The Happy One” when he returned to West London in June 2013, but he has barely raised a smile since. Of course, he did not mean that he was literally happy – there are always undercurrents to Mourinho’s words. More it was relief that he had returned somewhere where he could command the instant respect that he had had to earn for himself at Madrid. Continue reading

Liverpool: Brendan’s Bright Young Things

Josh Dishman looks at Liverpool’s second half of the season revival, and the impact of a young squad

“You can’t win anything with kids” goes the much-maligned and oft-repeated Alan Hansen missive that preceded Manchester United’s league and cup double in 1996. And whilst it is common knowledge that Brendan Rodgers has yet to win a trophy as a senior manager, his youth policy at Liverpool is threatening to make a mockery of Hansen’s theory once more.

The recent promotion of 19 year-old winger Jordon Ibe to the starting XI has attracted a blaze of publicity, yet youth courses throughout Rodgers’ side. The average age of the starting XI that defeated top four rivals Southampton last weekend was 23.4 years, and Liverpool’s title chase last season was executed by a team with an average age of just 23.22 years – the youngest side in the Premier League.

And whilst Rodgers and Liverpool could find themselves trophy-less again in May, the future does indeed augur well for the Redmen. Established key players Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge are all 25 or under (as is Mr. Balotelli), and have blossomed under the extra responsibility heaped on them after the departure of a certain Uruguayan star (no, not Sebastian Coates). Continue reading

Football Rivalry: Know Your Enemy

Ally Moncrieff looks at the importance of rivalries and knowing your enemies in the world of football…

You don’t need much to get a game of football started, a few willing participants, an open area and an object resembling a ball means you can partake in something that could be broadly recognised as the same sport played by Messi, Ronaldo et al. Its glorious simplicity is one of the things that makes football the greatest game in the world. Obviously once you start adding nets, kits, officials and so on that kickabout in the park becomes ever more like the real thing.

One thing is always going to be missing though, one little factor that takes football from great sport to great spectacle and that’s an enemy. Football without an enemy is just another hobby, another distraction from the mundanity of life. It needs the tribal ferocity that only true enemies can produce to elevate it to something grander, something more important. 

All teams have a rival, a side they’d prefer to beat above all others irrespective of how it affects league position or cup progress. Not all though have an enemy. Continue reading

Juventus vs Borussia Dortmund is set to be a tactical feast

TFN’s Simon Smith on why Juventus vs Dortmund runs deeper than Catenaccio versus Gegenpress…

Of the various ties in this Champions League last 16 to savour this week and next, there are many sub plots and rivalries to look forward to. Last week’s David Luiz derby might not have been the most enthralling, but with Carlo Ancelotti facing fellow former Abramovic employee Roberto Di Matteo in Schalke versus Real and Arsene Wenger’s reunion with Monaco there shall be no shortage of managerial talking points.Manchester City and Barcelona once again contest the Yaya Toure derby, although the match will most likely be more shaped by their experiences in last season’s clash. But none of this is what I’ve been looking forward to the most.

That would be the other semi-tenuous derby clash, the rematch of the 1997 Champions League final between Borussia Dortmund and Juventus. In tactical terms this is arguably the most intriguing match, and on paper one of the most evenly matched in a round that often provides mismatches for the larger clubs to sail to the latter stages. And, for differing reasons, this probably represents one of the more important ties for the two clubs themselves.

Dortmund are in the horrifying position of being on something of a hot streak – only Bremen’s five consecutive Bundesliga wins is better than their two – and yet having only just climbed out of the relegation zone. Their season would be long over were it not for the fact that their relegation battle is all too real, and yet their form in a difficult group with Arsenal, Fenerbahce and Anderlecht was unexpectedly good. The Champions League represents the best chance of any glory in a season they will hope to forget. Continue reading

5 Things we learned from lazy match reports

Jonny Singer returns with five critiques of lazy match reports…

1. Last month I had the pleasure of covering the Africa Cup of Nations for a couple of news outlets. Going to matches, travelling around Equatorial Guinea, interviewing players and getting to know, and watch, better and more experienced journalists was an experience I’ll never forget. But as well as all the fun and games (and hard work) there were some tough experiences, not least during the semi-final between the hosts and Ghana.

You might think, from the media coverage, some of which I contributed to, that this was a terrifying experience. It was not. None of us in the press box felt in any danger, though one photographer did take quite a nasty blow from the crowd.

However, it was quite a raucous, panicky environment – and in such environments, mistakes can be made. What was reported as tear gas, turned out to be smoke bombs. The height of the helicopter over the stadium varied from six foot to 40, depending on accounts. We, as journalists, had a duty to report – but we did so with the understanding that what we were providing was imperfect. Re-watching video footage would eventually prove that what we ‘saw’ with our own eyes was, at times, inaccurate.

All of this makes it even more ridiculous that one of the articles that a colleague was asked to write was entitled ‘five things we learned’.

This was not a time for analysis. At the time we didn’t have any idea what we were witnessing in terms of the bigger picture – that would come with time and perspective. To try and tell the world ‘what we’d learned’ was at best futile, at worst grossly irresponsible. Continue reading

Middlesbrough leading the way on and off the pitch

TFN’s Hugo Greenhalgh previews Middlesbrough ahead of their FA Cup clash against Arsenal and explains why there is much to admire about the North East club…

Last season, Middlesbrough made the rather brave managerial appointment of Aitor Karanka. While a refreshing change from the same old names on the British managerial merry-go-round, Karanka had never managed a league game before he arrived on Teesside. His credentials were based on his time coaching the Spain U-16s and three years spent as Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid. His Real appointment was even something of a surprise for Karanka, who had never worked with Mourinho before. The recommendation had come from former Bernabeu teammates, Luis Figo and Clarence Seedorf – high praise indeed.

One year on and Karanka is doing an excellent job at Boro. His first season was one of stabilisation and ensuring the club didn’t slip further down the table. They were in the bottom half when he joined but he guided them to a 12th place finish. This season has been a different story, however, and Karanka is beginning to put his own stamp on the club. Middlesbrough are top of the Championship following their defeat of Blackpool on Tuesday night and are now 10 games unbeaten. Continue reading