What’s the point of Champions League Qualification?

With clubs putting as much importance into qualifying for the next season’s Champions League as performing well in the current, Simon Smith asks what the point of the competition is…

Much has been made in recent weeks of the apparent unwillingness of Premier League clubs to participate in the dreaded Thursday football squad exhauster that is the Europa League. The earlier season push for Europe reached its absolute peak with victories over Arsenal for Southampton’s on New Year’s Day and Tottenham’s in the north London derby keeping the victors in the Champions League places on both occasions. But, with predictable familiarity, the enthusiasm for European football seems to have left both squads once the top prize became out of reach. Spurs and Saints have joined Liverpool on the list of suitors seeking to avoid the booby trap fifth place that consigns a team to the Europa League.

The size of the competition, endless travel to far off destinations in Turkey and Ukraine, and distraction of continually playing on Thursdays and Sundays are often touted as legitimate reasons for the Europa League being a poisoned chalice. One need only look at what Liverpool achieved – well, almost achieved – in their season bereft of midweek continentalism to see the damage it can cause, and so on. This is well covered ground.

What I want to know is, why don’t we see the same sort of thing in the Champions League? I mean what has the top level of elite European Club football ever done for the Premier League clubs? Besides the televisual and marketing exposure, commercial opportunities, additional revenue and pulling power when attracting players in the transfer market, is there an actual footballing reason for being in the competition? Continue reading

The Premier Election: the General Election Re-imagined


Jonny Singer reimagines the 2015 General Election in footballing parlance…

Football and elections go together like lamb and mustard. It’s not really how things are meant to be, but occasionally someone decides the two should be combined.

Who can forget that Arsenal, never relegated from the top flight, have also never been promoted, but were in fact elected to the Premier League (loads of people, actually, but not, it transpires, Spurs fans)? Who can forget that Tony Blair basically won his general elections because he pretended to like football (again, lots of people, because it’s not really true, but you know, it’s a nice thought)?

Anyway, it seems that now is one of those times where football and elections should, once again, cross paths. In just a week we’ll have a new government, almost certainly a Premier League winner, and two FA Cup finalists. If that doesn’t represent an opportunity for tenuous, disarmingly accurate and occasionally witty connections between sport and politics, what does?

So, here are the parties for the Premier Election (the best politics in the world™):

SNP – Celtic: 

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Popular in Scotland, but ignored in England, despite occasional interest when first team minister Nicola ‘Deila’ Sturgeon tries something different. Obsessed with staying in Europe but have very little control over that. With no real rivals north of the border they try and get involved down south, but it’s not going to happen.

Continue reading

Daniel Sturridge: Liverpool’s main attraction or supporting act?

Hari Sethi looks into a difficult season for Daniel Sturridge, and asks whether he can be relied upon to be Liverpool’s main man next season…

Wheeling away to celebrate scoring the winner against Southampton on the opening day of the season, Daniel Sturridge could’ve been forgiven for allowing himself to daydream of the year that lay ahead.

Though Anfield still bore the emotional wounds of last season’s ultimately futile title charge and the departure of the club’s talismanic number seven, for the other half of Liverpool’s prolific ‘SAS’, this was to be a season of opportunity, a season as the main man.  Yet with just seven games of their Premier League campaign left and with a top four finish seeming increasingly improbable, Sturridge has made just 11 appearances for the Reds, scoring four goals in the process.

For a player who signed a five year, £150k a week contract in October and the only recognized striker who possesses the physical traits to excel within Rodgers’ desired style of play, things haven’t gone well. This has been a disastrous season for Sturridge and one that casts doubt over his role in the side going forward. Continue reading

Premier League Gameweek 31: 5 things that (may or may not have) happened

Joe Devine returns with his weekly look at things that may or may not have happened in the Premier League…

John Carver Wins ‘Biggest Fan’ Competition

It’s been a great week for Newcastle manager John Carver. Not only did he get to wake up as Newcastle manager every day, but on Sunday, he won a competition held by the club to discover the world’s biggest Toon fan. First prize was lunch with Mike Ashley, which Carver was reportedly thrilled about, as he’d been trying to get a meeting with Ashley since taking the job. This is the second competition John Carver has won this year, the first being the one he entered to become Newcastle manager. 

Tim Sherwood Maintains 100% Record Against Man United

After Saturday’s game at Old Trafford, Tim Sherwood told reporters that he was pleased to have maintained his 100% record against Manchester United, despite having lost the game. When puzzled members of the press quizzed the Aston Villa manager, Sherwood explained that the record he referred to related to a “battle of the managers” – “We might have lost on the pitch, and that’s fine, but off the pitch, between me and Louis, I won that battle. You see? I know we lost the game but in our mind battle I actually won. My tactics were correct, it’s just that it didn’t work out, BUT I am the cleverer manager, is what I’m saying. I won. Just not where you can see, but I did win. 100%. They’ll forget that though, won’t they, when the people all say I’m useless, that I’ve got a 100% record against Manchester United, they’ll forget that. My ratios are sky high. Higher than the sky. I’m 100%.” Continue reading

Steven Gerrard stamps on Ander Herrera: 5 things that (may or may not have) happened

It’s a Steven Gerrard themed 5 things from Joe Devine’s much celebrated weekly TFN column…

1. Gerrard Ups Anti

In a desperate attempt to be noticed, Steven Gerrard languidly trod on the leg of Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera during Sunday’s game between Liverpool and Manchester United. Gerrard had reportedly threatened to defecate on the touchline if Brendan Rogers refused to put him in the team at half time, so given no choice, the Liverpool manager conceded. After being sent off, Gerrard watched the remainder of the game in the dressing room, screaming “look at me!” at the television, before ignoring his team mates and going immediately to give a post-match interview with the nice TV people, his only real friends.

2. This Does Not Stomp.

Joined by his wife Alex, Steven visited the Ambassadors theatre in London’s West End last weekend to watch the fabulous performance of Stomp. The couple enjoyed themselves marvellously, though recent reports suggest that the Liverpool midfielder may have both entirely misunderstood the performance, and taken the wrong message. Continue reading

FA Cup Quarter Finals: 5 things that (may or may not have) happened

Joe Devine returns to discuss five things that may or may not have happened in the FA Cup this weekend…

1. Bradford’s Pitch Has More Craters Than Moon

According to reports, the Valley Parade pitch has more craters in it than the surface of the moon. Reading manager and amateur astronomer Steve Clarke told reporters on Saturday morning “I’ve had a look at the pitch, and, I’m not a moon ‘expert’, but I’m probably a moon ‘specialist’, and I think there’s more craters here.” Concerned for his players, Steve Clarke requested the assistance of fellow moon fan Nigel Pearson. After a short examination of the pitch, Nigel told reporters “I can look after myself”, before donning his NASA cap and sprinting off into a nearby growth of bushes. 

2. Brendan Rogers Officially Bad Again

After a lengthy spell of being good, and a brief spell of being “Jesus” good, Brendan Rogers has reportedly become bad once again. Initial speculation came during Liverpool’s match up with Blackburn on Sunday, and the first confirmation came upon the final whistle. Our reporter spoke to some Liverpool fans outside Anfield after the game, here’s what they had to say: “I don’t know why he’s gone bad again. He was good for a while, then he was really good and we were thinking ‘oh wow, he’s Jesus good’, you know? But now he just seems to have gone bad again and I’m worried about when he might be getting good again, you know?” Continue reading

The State of the Game: West Brom and the EPPP

In part four of our State of the Game Series, Joshua Faulkner looks at how West Brom have been the victims of the Elite Player Performance Programme…

The future: ‘a period of time following the moment of speaking or writing, a time that is regarded as still to come’. In football the future ostensibly relies on youth prospects: who will be the next Maradona, Pele or George Best? As such, youth development becomes of particular interest for many football fans. The initial meteoric rise of Saido Berainho from promising youth prospect to West Bromwich Albion’s survival saviour fuelled an interest in the club’s youth development and often praised academy. However, it has also revealed the rather contradictory nature of youth development in English football due to the Elite Player Performance Programme, an issue that can voiced in a rather Marxist tone reflecting on corporate capitalism: “the rich simply get richer”.

So what is the EPPP? The Elite Player Performance Programme was a Premier League initiative introduced in 2011 in response to the perceived lack of top player being developed in England. It harboured similar ideological views shared by the DFB for a system of quality assurance, implemented to ensure an increase in elite home-grown talent. The EPPP focussed strongly on education, coaching and facilities. The above was executed through the adoption of a category structure from Category 1 to 4 with Category 1 status being considered the most elite and thus eligible for more funding from both the Premier League and FA. Continue reading