TFN Returns

Four years ago this week, we started The False Nine in the hope of creating an alternative platform for football writing.

There were several blogs out there already proposing a similar purpose – sites like In Bed With Maradona, The Inside Left and A Football Report were doing interesting things and we took inspiration from them.

Four years on though, it’s fair to say that the football writing landscape has changed significantly. There’s been a greater demand for quality, long-form writing that goes beyond the bread and butter of match reports and transfer rumours.

Publications like the Blizzard have gone from strength to strength, and have even published work by writers from this very site.

We’ve also seen greater recognition for tactical writing and statistical analysis, with sites like Squawka and WhoScored boasting coverage to rival the football supplements of broadsheets and tabloids alike.

With these trends in mind, we’ll be revisiting some of our old articles from over the years and looking at where we got it right – and wrong. What do our observations since 2012 tell us about the direction the game is taking?

Named as we are after the tactical trend that saw Spain soar to a third successive tournament triumph, the overwhelmingly possession-based dogma of that summer has become outdated and largely given way with counter-attacking again on the rise.

A promising but unproven young French midfielder left Manchester United for Juventus that summer, and has returned to Old Trafford four years on as the most expensive footballer in world football. The biggest deal of that transfer window saw Robin van Persie trade Arsenal for United, and with it inspire Sir Alex Ferguson to his final Premier League title in his 27 years at the helm.

This summer the Premier League’s window spending has surpassed £1b for the first time. Much has changed, and yet we endeavour to carry on.

As well as this, we’ll be dishing out our usual share of TFN nostalgia and looking back at some of the key events in our footballing memories, while keeping a watchful eye over the current trends in the modern game.

Sam Allardyce and the Art of Compromise

James Dutton looks at Sam Allardyce’s return to form and the struggle of other Premier League managers to adapt…

“There are two types of coaches. There’s coaches like me who weigh up the opposition and ask the team to adjust. Fergie was similar. Jose is similar. Then there’s Arsène, who won’t adjust. There’s Brendan, who looks like he won’t adjust. There’s Manuel Pellegrini, who looks like he won’t adjust, even in the Champions League.

“Their philosophy is different to ours. Ours is more about who are we playing against. Their philosophy is more, ‘We always play this way’, and they won’t change, they carry doing on the same thing. That’s why you can beat them.”

Sam Allardyce, October 2014

Sam Allardyce is no stranger to talking up his own abilities; in a fairer world where ‘good football men’ are rewarded for their determination, passion and persistence he would be the man sending Cristiano Ronaldo out every week to break record after record in the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.

Instead he’s leading the Andy Carroll renaissance and has propelled West Ham United to third place in the league amidst their best ever start to a Premier League season. Continue reading

Editor’s Column: Tottenham Hotspur fans, it’s time to wake up

With discontent growing at White Hart Lane, James Dutton believes Tottenham fans should take a step back from glorifying the club’s recent past…

January 22, 2012: Harry Redknapp’s third-placed Tottenham Hotspur are level with table-topping Manchester City at the Etihad. It’s 2-2; five points separate the two sides as the second half enters five minutes of season-shaping stoppage time.

Stefan Savic miscontrols the ball on the half-way line in the 91st minute, and Spurs are ready to counter; it’s two against one. Gareth Bale sprints past Joleon Lescott and into the penalty area with Jermain Defoe square. The Welshman passes ahead of Defoe, who was expecting a cutback, and the ball rolls along the six-yard box and beyond Hart. Defoe sprawls. He reaches out with his right leg out and arrows it inches wide.

Bale is on his hunches, hands on his head. Defoe clatters into the post in disbelief.

Minutes later, Ledley King clumsily brings down Mario Balotelli who was angling to take a shot on goal; Howard Webb points to the spot. The Italian is lucky to still be on the pitch after stamping on Scott Parker but calmly slides the ball into the bottom corner past Brad Friedel; arms outstretched, the match-winner receives the adulation of his teammates and the roar of the home fans.

Tottenham, so close to a such an unlikely comeback victory, fall eight points behind the champions-elect. Their title challenge turns to ashes. A month later they let a two-goal lead at Arsenal slip. The capitulation continues; their North London neighbours beat them into third by a single point. Spurs’ Champions League plans are cast asunder by a Didier Drogba inspired Chelsea in Munich. Having stuttered to fourth, Spurs’ right to enter Europe’s premier competition next year is revoked by Roberto Di Matteo’s new, sixth-placed European champions.

Harry Redknapp is sacked, Luka Modric is sold and Tottenham go back to square one. Continue reading

Editor’s Column: Manchester City’s ageing squad could prove to be a problem

TFN Editor Hugo Greenhalgh believes Manchester City’s squad needs freshening up…

Somewhat unusually, The Sunday Times ran a front page on the day of the Manchester Derby claiming that City were to fight Liverpool for the signature of Steven Gerrard’s next contract. While there may be little truth to this rumour, it would fit in with City’s recent trend of signing experienced players well beyond their peak years. The main reason for this policy is Financial Fair Play; they are a club continually at odds with the homegrown rule that requires a minimum of five “homegrown” players in their Champions League squad, while any free transfers are a bonus.

It will come as little surprise that Manchester City possess the oldest average squad age in the Premier League at 28. This is not necessarily a bad thing. They are, after all, the champions and that age brings experience. Key players such as Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabeleta and Fernandinho are all 28 or over. The concern is that time and time again, City have failed to integrate younger players into their squad. Indeed, there are very few who appear to be challenging for places. Continue reading

Editor’s Column: Is Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero the best in the Premier League?

The False Nine’s editor column returns as James Dutton assesses the true value of Sergio Aguero, and looks back at a fascinating international break…

The Premier League has undoubtedly lost a little of its stardust over the last two seasons. The departures of Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez to La Liga have shorn the country’s greatest export of its two most globally acclaimed star players.

The summer arrivals of Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Alexis Sanchez were welcome steps in the right direction for a league which prides itself on being The Best In The World™. But perhaps the league’s shining light was already staring us in the face?

Is it time to recognise that Sergio Aguero is the best footballer in the Premier League? This is not just in response to the four goal burst on Saturday that blew away Tottenham Hotspur away from home yet again. The regularity of injuries that curse the Argentine striker mean it is very easy to overlook his outstanding ability. Continue reading

Editor’s Column: Moyes his own worst enemy, Mourinho the puppet master and Liverpool’s transfer woes


The editor’s column returns. James Dutton discusses whether David Moyes is learning as a manager, Jose Mourinho’s sale of Juan Mata and Liverpool’s continuing transfer problems…

The semi finals of the League Cup have been the setting for the confirmation of a number of narratives in recent years.

In 2010 Manchester United proved to be a bridge too far, too soon for Roberto Mancini’s upstarts. In 2011 Birmingham City and West Ham United played out an interminable struggle, a dogfight that reflected their relegation credentials. A year later Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool proved their mettle as that season’s cup specialists by seeing off champions-elect Manchester City over two legs.

In years gone by a 9-0 aggregate result between Manchester City and West Ham United would have plumbed the depths of fantasy, but few have batted an eyelid given the obvious gulf in class between the top and bottom of the Premier League in 2013-14. 

That one-sided massacre contrasted greatly with the other semi; a titanic struggle between Sunderland and Manchester United, who appeared to be going to great lengths to avoid humiliation against City at Wembley, even at one point struggling to comprehend the point of penalties.

Continue reading

Editor’s Column: The Premier League Season of Over-Reaction, Exaggeration and Paradox


In his latest Editor’s Column, James Dutton surveys the top of the Premier League and tries to make sense of the six-point gap between 1st and 8th…

The third international break of the football season is upon us. This is traditionally the stage where journalists, bloggers and punters share their opinions and observations of the season so far.

In November 2013 though, to make sense of a nascent season that is knocked out of its rhythm week after week is to reckon against its perpetuation. Hindsight makes fools of us all, as those who reveled in Arsenal’s seemingly inevitable demise after their opening-day capitulation against Aston Villa and those who struggled to fathom the Moyesification of Manchester United (guilty) have found out.

That is not to say that Arsenal have both banished their demons of seasons gone by, or been found out by a resurgent Manchester United – who likewise have neither found the cure for their early-season woes or nosedived off a cliff into mediocrity.

This is the season of overreaction and exaggeration; the season of paradoxes.

Eleven games, a quarter of the season gone and six points separate the top eight. As this neat infographic from the whizzes at Sporting Intelligence show, this has been no ordinary start to a Premier League season…  Continue reading