Early Morning Notes – Everton, Champions League, Chelsea, Mansfield.

For anybody that missed the Champions League games last night, the highlights are on the Facebook page as usual.

The Daily Mirror are up to their old tricks this morning – ‘Fellaini may be next Everton star sold admits Moyes’, screams the headline. Well, no actually – mentions of Marouane Fellaini by David Moyes? None. Mentions of having to sell the Belgian midfielder? None. Example of half-arsed tabloid reporting and misleading headlines? One. David Moyes was actually talking about the precedent that might be set by the sale of Mikel Arteta instead, but why should that stand in the way of a melodramatic headline?

Still, worst bit of reporting of the day goes to TalkSport with their ‘AC Milan eyeing up Robinho/Fernando Torres swap’ effort. It’s not even worth reading, because as soon as you hear ‘swap’ in a rumour you know it’s untrue.

Juan Mata has been given a locker next to Fernando Torres at Stamford Bridge to apparently help the pair settle according to the Daily Mail – sure, because if that hadn’t happened they would have probably never have spoken to each other.

Most of you will be aware by who Carolyn Still is. If not, she’s the 29-year-old CEO recently appointed by Mansfield Town. The increased involvement of women in football is very much a good thing, but when their entrance into the game is treated as an FHM feature some of that positivity drains away. Either Mansfield are appointing a serious CEO or they’re taking part in an ambitious publicity stunt – if it’s the former, then don’t treat your new employee like a NUTS model. I’m sure she’s a capable, but it’s very hard not to be cynical when you read articles like this.

Oh, and being an ‘executive’ in the fashion industry is quite a lowly position – as well the Mail knows. You would hope that Miss Still would be part of the solution to sexism in the game, but the way she’s being presented just makes her part of the problem.

Early Morning Notes – Arsenal, Chelsea, Man United, Hillsborough, FIFA 12

First things first, last night’s Champions League highlights are all on the Facebook page – click here for that. Maybe give it a ‘like’ too, come on now – give something back…

Rumours around this morning that Manchester United and Chelsea will battle it out for Juventus winger Milos Krasic in January. Not sure about that, Krasic may have been left on the bench by Antonio Conte at the weekend, but Juve would want a King’s Ransom for their floppy-haired Serb. There are better players around for better money.

TalkSport – yup, I know – are reporting that Cristiano Ronaldo may consider a move to filthy-rich Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala in the future – with the Portuguese saying that:

‘In football you never know what can happen in the future. So if one day I go and play in Russia, do not be surprised. But for now I am doing well at Real Madrid.’

Interestingly TalkSport referred to the club just as Anzhi, presumably because nobody in their office knew how to spell Makhachkala…

Sir Alex Ferguson, for better or for worse, has given an interview comparing Wayne Rooney to Pele – listen to that on the BBC website. Probably don’t if you’re Liverpool fan, it will only annoy you.

Various sources are reporting this morning that a debate will be heard on the merits of releasing the Hillsborough files ahead of 2019. Over 100,000 people have now signed an online petition calling for the release of all documents relating to the tragedy. The Government is opposing any motion to release the documents to the public, and apparently favours filtering them through the Hillsborough Independent Panel first.

The FIFA 12 demo came out for Xbox yesterday and is being released for Playstation today, a tentative review can be found here – go easy, remember this is a football rather than video game site…

FIFA 12 – Demo Review

I can’t stress this enough, this is based on the demo version of the game – so factor that in as you will.

If there’s one thing that EA Sports are frequently guilty of, it’s reissuing the same game year after year with a few minor tweaks. The Madden series, for example, has frequently suffered from just being essentially a yearly, and £50, roster update.

Not so with the new FIFA.

What you’ll notice is first is the camera angle, which has been changed to more of a panning ‘broadcast’ perspective – a bit alien, but it will grow on you as it facilitates the other changes and gives you a broader view of the pitch.

The demo only includes the ability to play in Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, so judging the game physically may be a little premature. However, it’s looks to be the standard graphical update – which is all the was needed. Players feel more rounded and life-like, and the new ‘collision’ system is obvious from the start. Knock a ball into the box and expect a few forwards to go sprawling, slide in hard on tricky winger and you’ll send him rolling to the floor. Nice touches.

From a personal point-of-view, EA sports failed for a long time to lure me away from Pro Evolution Soccer because of the way in which FIFA represented the game; there were too many repeated situations and an over-reliance on ‘skill moves’. This has largely gone now, and the only way to break defences down is to work hard in possession. Defenders now close you down like never before, and you’ll need something of footballing brain to pass your way through teams.

As an occasionally player, this is very welcome – there’s nothing worse than being humbled by a teenager who’s spent hours learning all the different button combinations to perform repeated skill moves. They still exist, but in the way that they exist in real football – as occasional weapons that need to be used at the right time. It’s more Wayne Rooney than Luis Nani, so to speak.

When in your in possession, yes you have to work to unlock defences, but more effort than ever before is needed to keep the ball. You’ll find yourself crowded out in the opposition box, and having to go back just to keep moves going. The passing gage is more sensitive too, you’ll frequently under-hit the ball or miss a team-mate’s darting run.

It might be my imagination – or that I’ve been playing as Barcelona – but the movement that goes on around you seems more substantial. When you have the ball, you’ll notice other players moving into space and dragging defenders with them – EA seem to have made a real effort to rid the game of the static feel that it previously had. Of course, you can still manually trigger runs, but now multiple players seem to react to what’s going on around them naturally. It’s brilliant – it feels like a proper game.

There are also a whole host of little changes too, the ball feels heavier and more life-like, Alan Smith is now alongside Martin Tyler in the commentary box, and there’s now a pretty cool ‘player walking towards the camera just like on Sky’ moment when you select your team.

Miles better than it was, and easily the best football game now – streets ahead of anything else. Be prepared to work hard being good at it, but you’ll love it.

It’s out for real on the 30th September.

Early Morning Notes – Arsenal, Tottenham, Goalkeeper blunder, QPR & Newcastle Highlights.

For those that missed the game – or had their flatmate watch a recording of X-Factor instead – here are the highlights of QPR against Newcastle. This really, really should have been three points for Rangers, but they are at least looking much more Premier League-ready.

Rafael Van der Vaart is apparently annoyed at being left out of Tottenham’s Europa League squad, having described it as being ‘peculiar’ and ‘annoying’ on his website. Harry Redknapp’s disdain for the competition is well-known, so it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to the Dutchman – and actually given his injury record, including him in additional and wholly-unimportant fixtures wouldn’t have made a lot of sense.

In case you missed the extraordinary goalkeeping mistake posted on this site last night, you can find it here. As with all classic blunders, it has that essential ingredient of ‘what were you trying to do’ about it.

It’s a continuously trending topic obviously, but our thoughts on appointing ex-players as managers are here.

Gabriel Tamas has been retrospectively charged with violent conduct after rearranging James Vaughan’s face on Sunday. Tamas is set to receive the same three-game ban that Gervinho was given for stroking Joey Barton’s face on the opening day – sometimes the FA just don’t help themselves. Common sense please.

Despite being run-ragged by Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney at the weekend, Gary Cahill is still being reported as being wanted by Arsenal and being worth upwards of £13m by several different sources. Shouldn’t the whole point of Arsene Wenger’s transfer strategy by to bring in players that have a track record of being able to deal with such players? I don’t believe for a second that Arsenal will match what Bolton value Cahill at, nor do I think that they’ll go back in for him in January. Gossip column-fodder.

Player to watch: Gabriel Torje

One of the lesser-profiled moves of the Summer was Gabriel Torje’s £9m transfer to Udinese from Dinamo Bucarest.

The most flattering thing you can say about the Romanian right-winger, is that his arrival will go a long way to filling the Alexis Sanchez-shaped hole at Stadio Friuli.

At 5″5, with a low centre of gravity and excellent close control, there’s an obvious and lazy comparison to be made between Torje and Leo Messi – not deserved yet, but the 21-year-old can definitely play.

He does have a better nickname than Messi though – indeed, expect ‘the porn midget’ to be making a very sizeable move to Spain or England within three or four years.

The Premier League Owl Form Team – 12/9/11

A heavy Manchester-bias is creeping in, but unfortunately there’s just no justification for leaving those players out for the sake of variety. Anybody that’s new, the Form Team has a permanent home here

1. Asmir Begovic

He finally seems to be number one at Stoke, and the era of the goalkeeping time-share with Thomas Sorenson appears over for now. Continues to shut the door on some very high-powered teams.

2. Micah Richards

A renaissance man. Eighteen months ago rumours swirled about a move away from Etihad Stadium, and for all intents and purposes Richards’ career looked to have stalled. A better defender than Glen Johnson, better going forward, and a better athlete. Should be England’s first-choice right-back in Polkraine.

3. Gael Clichy

The consensus seems to be that he’d gone stale at Arsenal, and certainly the opening month of the season has seen Clichy rejuvenated by his change of club. Provides added width going forward, and improving as a defender.

4. Ryan Shawcross

Part of a defensive core that’s responsible for being unbeaten and having only conceded one goal in four games.

5. Vincent Kompany

Given the countries he’d played in prior to coming to England – Belgium and Germany – you have to admire how he’s adapted to the chasm in quality. Just a really, really good defender – and those criticisms of City’s back line are a distant memory since he established himself in the team. Arguably the best centre-back in the league.

6. Juan Mata

Exactly the kind of player that Chelsea needed to get the creative juices flowing in their squad. Early signs suggest that Andre Villas-Boas sees him as a starter already, and a means of departing the robotic style of play that has become Chelsea’s norm.

7. Yaya Toure

What a monster he is. He looks so clumsy, but has shed the image of just being a holding player and now routinely turns in complete midfield performances. Arguably Roberto Mancini best signing other than David Silva. Brings a solidity to City that few other players could.

8. David Silva

Watch him. Not in highlights packages, but for a full ninety minutes. Nobody else in the league comes close to being as comfortable or as clever on the ball as the diminutive Spaniard. Sergio Aguero will get the headlines at Manchester City, but don’t let that detract from how important Silva is to that team. Blessed with a weight of pass and creativity that, at best, only ten other players in the world have.

9. Wayne Rooney

New hair, same player. Playing with a swagger and belief that’s almost impossible to contend with.

10. Sergio Aguero

An example of an elite player playing at the very top of his form. Dangerous in and outside the box, on both his left and right foot, and will create as much as he scores. Not bad.

11. Ashley Young

Good old-fashioned goalkeeping howler

Some absolutely white-hot Belorussian League action here, and this is Dnepr Mogilev goalkeeper Artem Gomelko…

Definitely worthy of a place on the Mount Rushmore of goalkeeping howlers.

New trouble for Fernando Torres at Chelsea

This might turn into a bit of a power-play by Andre Villas-Boas…

In a story that has been a bit under-the-radar, Fernando Torres is being quoted in the Spanish press as saying that some of Chelsea’s older players are ‘very slow’. The Spaniard is naturally hiding behind the ‘misquoted’ excuse, and instead insists that he was merely referring to the style of play that Chelsea have adopted.

Regardless of the conjecture around what has and what has not been lost in translation, Torres should know better.

Anyway, Chelsea are supposedly going to investigate the incident thoroughly, or in Villas-Boas words:

‘We are going in-depth to regain the tape of that interview.

We’ll see if things play exactly as they are in that interview.

We’d just talk. Just talk to share opinion.

If it was unauthorised, I’d fine him, of course. Anyhow, it’s one player’s perspective.

I don’t think it’s a perspective that the manager shares. I don’t have to share my players’ ideas sometimes.

I think we have competence, apart from the ‘age problem’, which for me is not a problem.

Maybe we just have to speak about that situation and he has to see our view as well.’

I wonder…

Andre Villas-Boas doesn’t seem to rate Fernando Torres quite as highly as whoever decided to spend £50m on bringing him to Chelsea does. If the investigation into this proves unfavourable to Torres, you get the nagging feeling that Villas-Boas might use it to marginalise the forward.

Torres is less a player ‘struggling for form’ as he is just completely unrecognisable from his Liverpool-era pomp. Dips in form don’t usually last eighteen months, and with both Manchester clubs galloping off into the distance how much longer can AVB afford to wait for Torres to start scoring?

The player may just have given the manager an excuse to flex his ruthlessness.

Every week you expect the Spaniard to re-emerge from his malaise, and every week you’re left disappointed – the Premier League needs a player of his calibre at the top of his game. With Financial Fair Play approaching, it’ll be interesting to see if Chelsea try and recoup some of that outlay.

4 things we’ve learnt: Adebayor, Swansea, Stoke, Manchester City

Emmanuel Adebayor is a mercenary

Obviously something that wasn’t learnt over the weekend, more that it was just reaffirmed.

Adebayor was interviewed after the game, and made it quite clear how little concern he has for anybody that views his club-swapping with a frown.

This is what the rest of his career will look like; single seasons for different clubs, a hired gun brought in to provide short-term goalscoring solutions. Striker for hire.

Emmanuel Adebayor the player can be as good as it gets – his debut goal for Spurs’ was ironically exactly the type of chance that Harry Redknapp’s team would have spurned last season – but Adebayor the person will only ever be interested in Emmanuel and Emmanuel’s bank balance.

If he plays regularly he’ll always score goals, but even at twenty-seven he’s in danger of being remembered as a case study into what might have been for the want of a little humility.

Only two things are certain with Adebayor, and those are that he’ll neither be playing for Tottenham or Manchester City next season. His ego has burnt all bridges with the former, and his exaggerated self-valuation will obstruct any permanent deal with the latter.

A betting man would say that he’ll be the next high-profile player to sell his soul to Anzhi Makhachkala.

Swansea are in trouble

Before the season started, making a case for Swansea’s survival hinged around what they might be able to do going forward. After four games their ‘goals for’ column is still blank, and that’s after the relative ease of home games against Wigan and Sunderland.

During the Summer i said that Brandon Rodgers’ side looked lightweight, and that’s still my belief. Okay, Danny Graham has joined the club to add a little bit more presence, but he’s just not a good enough finisher to score goals at this level.

Travelling to Emirates Stadium is a daunting task, but it’s never been as easy as it is right now. A very shaky Arsenal should’ve been punished at some point, and that they weren’t – and that there’s still no real evidence of a cutting edge – is cause for real concern.

Without Michel Vorm, Swansea would have no points at all this season and their lack of readiness for this level of football would be starkly apparent.

Steve Bruce personifies the myth that predicates that good ex-players make good managers

Stoke have become the new Bolton…

…In that they don’t get nearly enough credit.

Like the early-to-mid-00s team that Sam Allardyce created at Bolton, Tony Pulis’ Stoke are too often dismissed as just a physical team that feed off feed off direct football.

That’s deeply unfair, and I suspect it’s the product of those who watch only highlights packages and goal round-ups. Truthfully, they play good football, but Tony Pulis also has the nous to recognise when a direct approach can unsettle teams with greater resources than he has. That’s to be applauded.

It’s irritating that the media jumped so willingly on the back of Kenny Dalglish’s ‘conspiracy’ claims over the weekend – where was the praise for Stoke? This is a team that has only conceded one goal all season, and is fourth in the league.

Yes, Liverpool were incredibly wasteful, but accusations of poor refereeing really shouldn’t detract from what was an incredibly committed defensive performance.

One suspects that a lot of the criticism that Stoke receive is based on outdated opinions about their style of football – outdated because these same critics are clearly not watching ninety minutes of the games. People need to start accepting what this team is, and that’s a bona fide top-half side.

One note on the refereeing, you could certainly make a case for saying that every decision Mark Clattenburg made on Saturday was correct – maybe some of them were contentious, but none of them were outright mistakes.

Actually what doesn’t get applauded enough is Stoke’s ability to switch their way of playing when necessary, how many teams in the league are actually able to present a physical and footballing threat simultaneously? Very few, well done Tony Pulis.

David Silva is the best player in the league at the moment

It’s becoming increasingly en vogue to say it, but the little Spaniard really is a pleasure to watch. Sergio Aguero’s pyrotechnics may write more headlines, but Silva is more valuable to Manchester City.

His first touch, his weight of pass, and his awareness of what’s around him when he receives the ball are all exemplary.

Most impressive of all though, you never hear a word from him. In the contemporary game, not to have someone agitating for respect, more money, or more praise is genuinely refreshing. The rebuttal to that is of course that Silva’s wages would probably already make Caligula blush, but it’s all relative – that didn’t stop Tevez, Rooney, Modric, Torres etc.

Remember also that Silva had the traditional settling-in period that goes with being a dainty playmaker in this league, but still there was no moaning – just an adjustment of his game, and probably a little time spent in the gym. Probably an absolute pleasure for Roberto Mancini to manage.

A likeable Premier League star and an outstanding footballer, I’d almost forgotten what those looked like.

Missed highlights from England or around Europe? They’ll be on the Facebook page.

Steve Bruce a poster-child for why ex-players don’t always make good managers

This is not an attack on Steve Bruce, he just happens to be the best current example.

Just as they don’t necessarily make good pundits, ex-players are not always equipped to be top-fight managers.

Why do we have so few elite English managers? Because we’re looking in the wrong place for them. In this country, UEFA Coaching badges are a footnote on a managerial CV compared to an illustrious playing career. That in itself is ridiculous, in what other profession is specific training rendered irrelevant compared to experience in a completely different job?

You can’t blame the clubs for appointing ex-players, because the culture in the game is still primitive enough to disregard such qualifications.

Over the weekend I heard an interview with Karl Robinson, the MK Dons manager. Robinson has done an outstanding job at Stadium:MK, and is now accepted as being one of the brightest managerial talents in the country. However, the opposition he initially faced from players on account of his own meagre career was quite obviously a significant barrier to success.

The Premier League, more so than any other league on the continent, has bred this. We still value man-motivators over tacticians, we want English brawn over foreign technique – for all its affluence, our game is still fairly amateur.

When you listen to an ex-player summarising a game, maybe translate that into a dressing room team-talk. Yes, that insipid, clichéd rhetoric is not an act, it’s the product of an inability to articulately break-down a game.

Do you think the level of punditry would be just as banal if it was being performed by Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, or Andre Villas-Boas?

Andre Villas-Boas is an interesting one – because that’s a managerial career that’s been born out of a love and passion for the game, rather than just a ‘what do I do know’ at the end of a playing career. When Chelsea appointed the Portuguese, there were a couple of features about his back-story – and in particular his methods of preparation. Dossiers, statistics, reams and reams of information compiled on future opponents.

Can you imagine a British ex-player doing that? Very few of them have that kind of dedication, and even fewer have the intellectual capacity to articulate the product of such background work.

At the end of Euro 2012, Fabio Capello will go back to drinking wine and listening to classical music in Italy, and we’ll all sneer about the Italian’s cultured ways and his failed time with England. The media, because they facilitate this as much anybody else, will make loud noises about needing an English manager that motivates players. They’re wrong, because while Capello did play the game at the highest level, his methods and coaching style are very advanced – and probably more complex than our players are willing to accept.

We must become more modern, and we must start actually enforcing the necessity of coaching badges – football has moved on from the Brian Clough-era of simplistic man-management, and the English game needs to start embracing a more modern approach. It’s our resistance to the Mourinho/Wenger generation of manager that’s causing the problem, that’s why we’re so far behind internationally.

Obviously it’s not as simple as just appointing a manager of that ilk to the national job, the whole culture in the game in this country has to change. Just as the game has been modernised in the boardroom and infiltrated and bettered by the private sector, the same has to happen on the playing side.

While we’ve sneered at the European approach to accepting only qualified coaches and seeing it as nothing more than ‘red tape’, our national team – at all age groups – has become vastly inferior.

Time to evolve with the rest of the world…

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