Ross Barkley: The next victim of English football’s conflicted interests?

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Chris Francis discusses Ross Barkley’s premature call-up to the senior England squad and the structural schisms in the national game…

The call-up of Ross Barkley to the England senior set-up is not indicative of why England lag so far behind European teams. This is what I heard some commentators say today. There are deeper, structural issues that exist in the English game that hold the national team back. These will not be fixed quickly.

The call up of a young player who is playing well is not a surprise; this happens everywhere. Barkley has been known amongst the football world as a special midfielder for a long time. Only a serious injury two seasons ago stopped him appearing in David Moyes plans more regularly. Fully recovered, via a successful loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday, he has now played exceptionally in both of Roberto Martinez’s first two games in charge of the Toffees. Any country who has a youngster bossing games in their top division would promote him early, especially as he has played and excelled for every age-group along the way. Two games is early I admit, but still, this is meant to be a very special player. Continue reading

Football’s Iron Throne: Game of Thrones meets the Premier League

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As the third series of Game of Thrones draws to a close, James Dutton and David Wild imagine the parallels between the worlds of Westeros and the Premier League…

As the Premier League continues to enthral millions across the world, so HBO’s serialisation of George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ has captivated a loyal, steadfast and ever-growing audience. Here, The False Nine draws analogies between the two worlds; from the intimidating Britannia Stadium to the formidable Iron Islands, no stone is left unturned. Who will win in the Premier League Game of Thrones?

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What’s next for Marcelo Bielsa? Five jobs for football’s tactical fundamentalist

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Greg Johnson rustles up five potential new dug-outs for the man behind “vertical football” to takeover this summer…

Marcelo Bielsa needs a new job. Although cited by Jonathan Wilson as the progenitor to football’s current obsession with ball retention and worshipped as a sort of tactical deity by his fans, he is currently unemployed after parting ways with Athletic Club of Bilbao.

Having masterminded Athletic to two finals last season, losing out as runners-up to Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in the Europa League and Copa Del Rey respectively, this year the man they call El Loco hasn’t fared so well. With the loss of Javi Martinez to Bayern Munich and a distracted Fernando Llorente dropped from the starting line-up, the €40M received from the German champions did little to help plug the gaps left by such vital players due to the club’s Basque-only recruitment policy.

Now the eccentric former Argentina and Chile coach is left searching for a fresh project to work his idiosyncratic ways on, but where can he go?

Too head strong and unpredictable for the Real Madrid hot seat, and too alternative to be short-listed as Ancelotti’s successor at Paris Saint-Germain, he’s a manager whose methods are better suited to open-minded underdogs and sides just outside of the established big club orthodoxy.

Here are five jobs that may interest football’s tactical fundamentalist. Continue reading

Premier League 2012-13: A Season of Sorrow, Part 1 – Shades of Grey

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Finally the Premier League has put us out of our misery and decided to end the season. There’s been little excitement and little to remember, James Dutton wonders what the hell happened, and whether anyone can be happy about this…

The 2012-13 Premier League season has undoubtedly been a damp squib.

The exceptional events of a year ago seem to have hoarded all the drama and intrigue the Premier League can provide.

For the first time since 2006 there was nothing meaningful to decide at either end of the table – save another “epic” battle between Tottenham and Arsenal for fourth, with the wretched Reading and QPR the worst of a particularly sorry bunch of bottom-half sides this year.

It’s been a season defined by regression; the first time since 1996 there has been no English team in the quarter finals of the Champions League, an artificially dramatic “Fight for Fourth” and a title race that was, for all intents and purposes, sewn up before Christmas.

Misery reigns from top to bottom.

Are there any teams in the Premier League that can argue to have had a good season, be content with what they have achieved, or how far they have progressed, since August? Continue reading

The Neutrality Index – The Case for the Heavyweights

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David Wild puts the Neutrality Index to the test as he compares Everton and Swansea City…

If you’re an avid supporter of my work you’ll remember that last week I wrote a piece on the Neutrality Index, a combination of the factors which I believe a team’s neutral support is based on. Further to that article I now plan to take those factors and examine the case for two of the neutral heavyweights of the Premier League. In doing this I hope to try and figure out who has the best case to be ‘the people’s choice’.

All season ticket prices quoted are for the cheapest season ticket. I’m also choosing to include some famous fans of each club, both as perhaps an indicator of the kind of person who follows that team and also because it’s a nice interesting little factoid of the kind that pub quiz enthusiasts like myself thrive on in their pointless hours. Enjoy. Continue reading

The Problem with Wayne Rooney

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Scott Jenkins asks whether Wayne Rooney has fulfilled his potential as he reaches a crossroads in his career…

The issue with Wayne Rooney is simply that there isn’t one that he can solely control. It’s inherently our own problem on how we view him and subsequently what we expect.

When the boy from Croxteth burst onto the scene at Everton as a 16 year old record breaker, scoring that goal against Arsenal, something happened. Suddenly fans, players, managers and media all bolted up and took notice of him. He was the name on everyone’s lips. The player every club wanted. Instantly he was the hope of a nation too. Continue reading

The Battle for Fourth: North London and Merseyside

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Halfway though the  Premier League season, Simon Smith surveys the chances of Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in finishing Fourth…

At the start of the season nearly everyone predicted a Manchester top two by this point, and Chelsea looked a good bet for third after a busy summer in the transfer market to improve on a dire league campaign last season.  Fourth place, just as in 09/10, 10/11 and 11/12, looked to be the position most hotly contested for a lucrative Champions League spot.  At the halfway point, with so many more questions than answers, it seems a good time to review the four contenders vying for fourth place.

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