Definitions. #NUFC #Kinnear #EPL

A director of football is an ambiguous title and a good director of football can operate in various ways. He can form an effective link between board and playing staff, and he can also be the mouthpiece of the board and ownership. In the case of Newcastle’s new director of football, he can be what he lets himself think he is.

It is of huge concern that Kinnear’s role has not been properly defined. The official statement has only outlined that Alan Pardew and Graham Carr answer to him, without outlining his job. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the man in question was a focused and professional director of football.  The varying contradictions on his role in transfers suggests a man who is either far too arrogant for the job or in a state of confusion. Either one of these scenarios is as likely as the other, and both show how truly inadequate Kinnear is for the role.

Apprehension towards this role is that it doesn’t work in English football, where managers traditionally like to have sole control of team affairs, but in recent times, this view has been challenged. At West Brom, their system of a director of football has been influential in their progress. By having the recently departed Dan Ashworth at the helm, West Brom have avoided turbulent changes when  managers come and go. Ashworth, as a constant, has helped to keep the playing side as consistent as possible, and has been influential in finding talent such as Mulumbu. West Brom are not the only ones to employ a similar method, as Man City have begun to set the foundations for a long term project. Tixi Begiristain came in before Manuel Pellegrini, and will aid the new manager immensely. By having a fellow countryman who knows the club well, Pelligrini’s transition has been made all the more smooth. On top of this, Begiristain boasts immense footballing contacts and knowledge. He also operates as the owner’s mouthpiece and has clearly outlined the club’s future intentions to all involved at City and the fans as well.

When you look at football directors across the league, it makes the Joe Kinnear situation look all the more worrying. Kinnear does not have great connections and besides Newcastle, he has been unemployed for nine years. Kinnear is also shamefully poor at PR, as his two interviews have shown. He doesn’t understand the club, media or fans, preferring to mock and insult, rather than build bridges. He is not a man of consistency like Ashworth, already suggesting he will move on far too many players.

The biggest concern for fans in respects to Kinnear has to be his level of control. While at other clubs, the directors are not managers, or have managerial intentions, Kinnear does. While the relationships are also key at other clubs, they are not permanently attached to the manager’s side. At Newcastle, Kinnear is a man who wants to return to management and is going to hang over Alan Pardew like an oversized vulture. No other director of football travels on the same bus as the players and the manager. No other director of football has an office built right near the manager’s. No other director of football constantly criticises the worker of major players in public.

While most fans are quite rightly opposed to the idea of Joe Kinnear being within a 100 mile radius of the club, there is little that can be done about it. It is the responsibility of the club and Joe to properly outline his role as a Director of Football, and to leave the crucial partnership of Graham Carr alone to allow the ticking time bomb at Newcastle to be delayed as long as possible.

As it stands, Newcastle do not have a director of football. They have a dinosaur of football.

Sell Cisse? Don’t be ridiculous. #NUFC

Since the news of Russian club interest in Tiote and Cisse, some fans have advocated the sale of Cisse. Frankly, this makes absolutely no sense at all, and shows that too many have a short memory in regards to the season before, and the season just gone.

Going back to the summer of 2012 might illustrate the sort of attitude Newcastle have to strikers. That summer we sold Best and Lovenkrands and didn’t replace either of them, leaving us with only three senior strikers. The club were extremely fortunate that Ba and Cisse were of great fitness, otherwise the lack of options would have been ruthlessly exposed. Even in January, when Ba was lost and replaced with Gouffran, it left the club still short of options; arguably less options as Gouffran adopted a wide position. With the news that Shola could possibly leave the club as well, the club could well see itself with only Gouffran and Campbell left. As fans, you’d be putting an extraordinary amount of faith in the club’s board to bring in two quality strikers at the very least.

Beyond the mere logistics, fans seem to have forgotten that this is the still the striker who blitzed the league when joining in January of 2012. Cisse has arguably been more of a victim to the dreadful season than any other played. He was terribly mismanaged by Alan Pardew who bizarrely placed him on the right wing and expected him to flourish. That move perfectly illustrated Pardew’s pandering to Ba that was to prove detrimental to Cisse’s form. Once Ba had gone, not only was Cisse suddenly back in his actual position, but he also had an enormous amount of pressure on his shoulders, expected to carry the goal-scoring burden that our squad seemed incapable of sharing.

Even when reverted back to his normal position, he’s suffered because of the form and appearances of those around him. Cabaye’s terrible form/fitness issues and the lack of pitch time in the cases of both Hatem Ben Arfa and Slyvain Marveaux meant that Cisse often played without the team’s best three creators. His constant offsides are indeed frustrating, but they are merely the product of the lack of service. The amount of times Cisse makes a great run, only to be ignored is just as frustrating as watching his offsides.

While it often feels that Cisse is discredited, he deserves credit for several things this season. He has attempted to adapt to the long ball approach, with his hold up play improving substantially this season pointing to this. He was also a huge reason for one of the only positives this season, Europe. He scored four in eight, and drove the team to the quarterfinal. People criticise the fact he has “only” scored 13 goals. Those 13 goals secured some crucial wins when the going got tough, particularly with his last minute winners. Not only that, but beyond Cisse, only 5 players scored more than two goals all season in all competitions: Cabaye, Sissoko, Gouffran, Shola, Hatem Ben Arfa and Marveaux. When you consider that two of those arrived in January and two of them often missed matches, Cisse really has carried the goalscoring burden.

Lets remember that this is the man who has scored 26 goals in 61 games. Finding a striker who could do better would be extremely difficult, and probably expensive. Selling Cisse would be an extremely risky move at the best of times, and right now? It would be downright stupid.

 

@MLS, and why it makes for a good league to follow. #MLS

Major League Soccer has to be one of the most unique leagues in all of football. While in countries such as England and Spain, the sport is the dominant face of national sport, the MLS has to compete alongside NHL, NFL and other behemoths of world sport. This uniqueness is also found within the history. While the modern top leagues go back decades, MLS does not. La Liga? Started in 1929. Bundesliga? 1963. MLS? 1996. The sense of new and different is in my view, a fundamental part of my admiration for the league.

Critics of the league will often bemoan the lack of promotion and relegation. Love it or loathe it, it’s not a part of the league, and won’t be for the foreseeable future. The lack of promotion and relegation though has created a unique atmosphere in American cities. One of the biggest and enjoyable talking points of the league is who “deserves” to be an MLS team. The idea of “proving” themselves leads to some interesting narratives within the footballing landscape. For me, it’s great to see cities like Orlando and St Louis prove to everyone they deserve MLS, with fans driven to aid their clubs for the future, as Orlando fans proved with their push for funding from the state. In a way, the quest for MLS franchise state gives the clubs a little more heart and identity as the fans can truly be seen as central to their clubs, and, for the outsider, watching the league grow in this way is nothing short of great.

People also criticise the league’s draft system. There is no doubting that it is quite complex for those outside of American sport. However, once you take the time to understand it, you can see its benefits. For a start, the MLS Super Draft is an event worth watching. By keeping the event self contained, it raises the interest of the league’s fans. Prior to the build up, the league and it’s excellent media staff will educate everyone on just who the prospective big stars are, what each team is looking for and how the day is expected to go. Within the draft, you can hear some truly great stories. Kekuta Manneh is one of these great stories. He arrived at the draft as an 18 year old with his adopted parents. Born in Gambia, Kekuta’s rise from the age of 12 through various clubs was brought to a temporary standstill as his mother’s death changed his life. At the age of 15, a link to the U.S.A. meant he took the bold choice of moving to Atlanta and waiting to see what happened. He later moved to the Texas Rush where he met his foster parents and had the education he had never had the opportunity for. In 2012, Manneh had the possibility of trials with Liverpool and Monchengladbach. Now 18, he scored his first goal this year for the Whitecaps in a 2-2 draw with FC Dallas. It’s stories like this and the opportunities within the teams to stake a place that make the draft enticing.

Of course though, people watch the sport for the on pitch events. While it is obvious that the league still has a way to go in improving the on pitch quality, it is already of a good standard. While people know of the league due to superstars like Thierry Henry, Marco Di Vaio and until recently, David Beckham, the MLS has produced its fair share of stars. Landon Donovan finally succeeded in Europe during his Everton loan spell. Kei Kamara impressed on loan at Norwich. Brek Shea recently moved to Stoke City. While MLS has exported plenty of stars, this is not to say that their are none still in the league. Graham Zusi is a key component of Sporting Kansas City and is one of the league’s best players. Chris Wondolowski is one of the league’s greatest strikers and continues to prove so at San Jose Earthquakes. The fact that the league continues to create good talent bodes well for a league that is striving to improve on the pitch.

Also on the pitch, the game is made all the more exciting by the league’s competition. Promotion and relegation does not at all guarantee an exciting league. Look across the top leagues. Barcelona and Real Madrid dominate Spain, the top four in England is extremely predictable, Bayern are looking like reasserting themselves as the sole dominant force and PSG’s finance has bought the French league. Increasingly, fans have to look at the chasing pack and the relegation candidates for competition. In MLS’s short history, there has been 9 different MLS Cup champions from 1996 to 2013, and no-one has won it more than twice in a row. MLS offers a refreshing alternative to leagues that are often won by those with the biggest wallet. Choose any team to follow, and there’s no telling where that team could end up in a few seasons following them.

With the increase in technology, footballs fans have increasingly looked for a secondary league to enjoy. For me, MLS’s greatest strengths is its media. The league not only produces comprehensive highlights on your phone, iPod and online that can be accessed in the UK, it also looks to educate its fan base. A quick look on MLSSoccer.com will show you videos of match previews, goal breakdowns and major news. On top of this, the league looks to educate its new fanbase and makes immersing yourself in a new league all the easier. This is one of the greatest attractions of the league.

Difference? I’m all for it.

Cheick Tiote: Symbolic of #NUFC’s struggles.

Cheick Tiote can be praised as one of Newcastle’s best value for money signings of the Ashley era. When he arrived from FC Twente, the simplicity and ferocity of his play led to almost instantaneous £20 million pound links to the likes of Chelsea. While he showed the capability to lose his head, his dawdling on the ball most noticeably costing Newcastle a goal in a messy loss to Blackburn that saw Joey Barton given a retrospective three match ban. It was testament to his form that fans rarely held his errors against him, as time and time again, his ball winning and ball retention led to many positives for Newcastle. The following season, his partnership with Cabaye was just as important as Demba Ba’s goals.

In a season that has been nothing short of disastrous, Tiote has been  a shadow of his former self. Injuries, loss of form, and a lack of intelligence in every respect of his on pitch play runs surprisingly parallel to mistakes the club itself has suffered. While injuries can be described as a factor behind this as he suffered an astonishing 5 injuries affecting calves and hamstrings  this season alone. This would easily set a player back in his form, but it is an insufficient excuse to absolve him of blame.

The beginning of Tiote’s loss of form can in my opinion be attributed to comments made by Alan Pardew. His bizzare evaluation of Tiote coincided with a loss of form the next season. Pardew felt that “there is so much more to come from him if we can get him out of just popping it off safely. When he attacks teams and runs at them, he could be as effective for us as Essien is for Chelsea.”  It is understandable, to an extent, why Pardew said this. Tiote has always been capable of a lovely cross field pass, and does possess good composure on the ball. However, Pardew has mistaken this as a sign of attacking capability. Tiote does not possesses this capability and ever since his goal against Arsenal, his only noticeable attacks tend to be 30 yard shots high into the stands, or the loss of possession in the opposition half.

While the loss of form of one player can often be expected, it is the wider ramifications of Tiote’s loss of form that has impacted so heavily on Newcastle. One of the key problems for Newcastle has been the shape of the team. With Tiote filled with the idea that he is a midfield maestro, he sprints around aimlessly like a spaniel after a toy. When he does this, Cabaye or his midfield partner is often left alone against 2 or 3 of the opposition midfield alone, and this leads to the dragging of other players out of position. This has led to Newcastle being one of the most easy teams to play through this season. In combination with this, Newcastle’s defense has been truly woeful, lost without the protection that Tiote and Cabaye provided, most memorably in the 2011/12 unbeaten start to the season. Without this cover, Newcastle’s defense has often been inexcusably left isolated. Yet another issue, and the biggest gripe of some Newcastle fans, has been the constant long ball approach of the team. I don’t believe that Pardew has necessarily instructed Newcastle to go long, but the players have been left with limited options to move the ball around. Tiote, in form, is outstanding in constantly going short to players, receiving the ball, and moving it along. By changing his game, and attempting to “evolve” him, Pardew has managed to reduce available options for players, who now panic and boot the ball vaguely in the direction of a forward player, often ineffectively.

The importance of Tiote has been shown this season, both negatively and positively. If Alan Pardew can revert Tiote back to the simplicity he is most effective at, he can go some way towards solving some of the issues that have blighted Newcastle this season, and return one of Newcastle’s most important and talented players to full form.

A statistical look at #NUFC’s fixtures.

In a season in which complaints have more often than not  been leveled at the manager’s lack of playing style and personnel usage, the only thing that Pardew and the board will care about is results.  By breaking down the season’s fixtures into three blocks, it is easier to notice patterns, such as the possibility of result improvements or decline as the season progressed.

The first block of results is the first 12 games of the season:

Tottenham (H) 3pts
Chelsea (A) 0pts
Villa (H) 1pt
Everton (A) 1pt
Norwich (H) 3pts
Reading (A) 1pt
Man Utd (H) 0pts
Sunderland (A) 1pt
WBA (H) 3pts
Liverpool (A) 1pt
West Ham (H) 0pts
Swansea (H) 0pts

Total: 14pts, 3 wins, 4 losses, 4 draws
GF: 13 GA: 17
Home pts: 10pts out of a possible 21 pts
Away pts: 4pts out of a possible 15 pts

The second block is of the next 12 games:

Southampton (A) 0pts
Stoke City (A) 0pts
Wigan (H) 3pts
Fulham (A) 0pts
Man City (H) 0pts
QPR (H) 3pts
Man Utd (A) 0pts
Arsenal (A) 0pts
Everton (H) 0pts
Norwich (A) 1pts
Reading (H) 0pts
Aston Villa (A) 3pts
Chelsea (H) 3pts

Total: 10pts, 3 wins, 8 losses, 1 draw
GF: 20, GA: 26
Home pts: 10pts out of a possible 18
Away pts: 4pts out of a possible 18

The last 13 games of the season:

Tottenham (A) 0pts
Southampton (H) 3pts
Swansea (A) 0pts
Stoke (H) 3pts
Wigan (A) 0pts
Man City (A) 0pts
Fulham (H) 3pts
Sunderland (H) 0pts
WBA (A) 1pt
Liverpool (H) 0pts
West Ham (A) 1pts
QPR (A) 3pts
Arsenal (H) 0pts

Total: 13 pts, 4 wins, 7 losses, 2 draws
GF: 11, GA: 24
Home pts: 9 pts out of a possible 18
Away pts: 5 pts out of a possible 21

From these results, several points stand out:

- The start of the season was where Newcastle picked up the most points, 14. From there things only got worse as the second part of the season led to 10 points and the last saw a slight improvement up to 13 points.

- Newcastle only had two away wins all season. They lost 10 away games and drew 7.  Newcastle gained 13 points out of a possible 57 points.

-Newcastle’s away form was consistently poor as they picked up 4 points from their 1st 12 games and 2nd 12 games, before picking up 5 points in the final 13 games.

- Newcastle’s saviour was their home form with 9 wins at SJP, 1 draw, and 9 defeats. This led to a points return of 28 points out of a possible 57.

- Newcastle scored most of their goals in their 2nd 12 games, with 20 goals. 6 of these coming in two high scoring defeats away at Arsenal and Man Utd. Consequently, their last 13 games saw their least amount of goals scored, 11.

- Newcastle’s defending was easily one of the worst seen. They conceded 67 goals over the season. The defending was worst in the 2nd 12 games and the last 13 with 26 and 24 conceded respectively. Essentially, Newcastle conceded twice a game on average in those 25 games.

- Newcastle’s record against the top four was one win, against Chelsea at home. Otherwise, Newcastle was to lose every single encounter, 7 matches.

-Newcastle’s record against teams who found themselves in the relegation mix (11th-20th) at home was mostly excellent. At home, Newcastle won 6 of their 9 encounters, beating Norwich, Fulham, Stoke, Southampton, Wigan and QPR. They lost 2. Losing to Sunderland and Reading. They drew once, against Villa. Newcastle picked up 19 out of 27 points at home against teams in the relegation battle at home.

Newcastle’s record in the relegation battle away from home made for less impressive reading. Newcastle won just twice, beating QPR and Villa. They drew 3 times against Sunderland, Norwich and Reading. However, Newcastle  lost 4 of their 9 fixtures, losing to Fulham, Stoke, Southampton and Wigan away.

 

While this is not to read as a indictment of Alan Pardew and/or the players, it is clear where Newcastle’s strengthes and weaknesses fell in the season, and goes some way to explaining a dismal season.

Solution to the FA’s flawed system. #ENG #Football #MLS #Referees

A lot is made of a bad tackle. Sky repeatedly show an awful tackle in slow motion and from every angle possible, while pundits offer their disdain. In cases like McManaman on Haïdara, this is completely understandable. It was moronic. That isn’t to say this hasn’t happened before, and won’t happen again. While it is difficult to stop these tackles arising, the FA have to change their system.

Currently, there are many flaws. The most irritating of which is the rule that retrospective action can not be taken if the ref saw and acted upon the offence. Where is the sense in this? Referees are human, and will make mistakes. The FA could remove a lot of animosity by changing this rule.

The answer to flaws like this lies across the Atlantic. The MLS may get a lot of criticism, but it has one aspect brilliantly controlled.

The MLS Disciplinary Committee backs up a league which has a fairly poor refereeing standard. The Committee is made up of a panel of independent adjudicators who act in certain circumstances and these aspects should be implemented into the Premier League.

1: Red Card Seen and Produced by Referee:
In MLS, the automatic one match ban can be added to, and the fine increased if the panel believe the case deems it necessary. The phrasing is key to this rule. It applies to tackles of a “reckless nature” and acts in “order to protect player safety.” This attitude is bizarrely found to be lacking in the lax attitude of the FA retrospective ban.

2: If the Referee Sees the Incident and Deems it Anything but a Red Card:
The committee has the ability to review evidence, and if the committee unanimously decides that a red card is deserved, it is given. This attitude allows for a level of referee protection, without the stupidity that allows so many red card offences to be ignored in the Premier League.

3: For Persistent Offenders:
This is a brilliant bit of common sense from the league. Repeat offenders suffer these sanctions:
-The MLS Club and Players Union are informed of  the League’s  behavioural monitoring of the offender
- The player can receive supplemental punishment if offences are continued
- A probationary period occurs, and good behaviour ends this period.

It is clear to me that the FA system has to change, in order to end the controversy and furore over every debatable challenge. The MLS system works, and shows a great deal of respect to the referee, the league and the players. This balance is key to the wellbeing and integrity of the league. It’s time the FA progressed for the best of all parties involved.

Just where has it gone wrong for #NUFC?

After the critic defying season that led Newcastle United to 5th place and a place in the Europa League, Newcastle were not expected to repeat it. The Europa League added many arduous fixtures on top of a congested fixture list, historically  clubs league position always suffered while in the Europa League. However, no fans were expecting a relegation dog fight and the performances that have littered their season so far. The league position however can be explained. 

If you were to listen to Alan Pardew’s comments, you’d believe that Newcastle United are only struggling because of injuries. While this is a valid point, it is easily forgotten that the team struggled before the likes of Yohan Cabaye got injured. The problem is not confined to this reason, it is widespread and calls question onto Alan Pardew and his employers. The Newcastle United board have mantra, whether you agree with it or its intentions, or not. The mantra focuses on strong first team players that will be supplemented by youth and fringe players. The Europa League, the FA Cup and the League Cup have shown the system has failed. The likes of Sammy Ameobi, Shane Ferguson and James Tavernier have shown that the youngsters are either not ready, or simply not good enough. When combined with the injury crisis, it has left Alan Pardew’s choice weak. Regardless of selection, criticism can be placed on Pardew himself. His tactics have bewildered at times. The attempted solution to the Ba and Cisse conundrum caused more harm than good. Cisse so far wide, led to full backs and wingers having the time of their lives down the channels, while Ba’s increased greediness left the likes of Cisse isolated. With Ba out of the picture, Pardew has a great chance to redevelop the team around a central, and more selfless, Cisse. The midfield has also suffered from tactics, the early stages of the season was dominated by long ball, which overlooked the team’s strength, and left the likes of Cabaye and Anita ineffective. In recent weeks, the ball has been kept on the ground a lot more. This is still negated by the Newcastle approach of treating the football like a bomb, with panicked, rushed and often thoughtless passes attempted. The return of Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Jonas will hopefully implement the patience and calmness required in the midfield. By the far the biggest problem area for the team has been defensively. Krul, Williamson, Simpson, Santon and Coloccini have all been guilty of some truly woeful errors. While it is normal for a defender to have the odd mistake, the alarmingly regularity is deeply concerning. Pardew can marshal the defence all day and all night, but if basics are forgotten on the pitch, it counts for nothing. Pardew’s training ground methods are not only in question defensively, but also in the realms of set pieces. Newcastle have no creativity in this sector, and possess one plan: a floated high ball to Mike Williamson. It doesn’t matter who takes it, Marveaux, Cabaye, Anita or Bigirimana, the pieces have been poor. To improve this, movement and decoy runs need to be done at the very least, if only to make the Williamson tactic look effective. Other than that, alternative set pieces need to be implemented. Predictability is the easiest thing for a team to defend against. Equally, defensive organisation has appalled. Newcastle have conceded the most headers in the league, and this isn’t surprising. Danny Simpson’s inability to close down wingers leads to too many crosses for the centre back pairing to deal with. On the left, Santon’s attacking instincts, reliance on his right foot, and occasional lapses in concentration have led to similar occurrences. Both Coloccini and Williamson have tried to stop this, often getting dragged wide and leaving gaps in the defence. Hugely important for the defence is communication, something which is largely lost on our back four. The clearest example of this is the many failed offside trap attempts. Communication is key to shape and maintaining defensive solidity. At the other end of the pitch, things are from golden. Demba Ba carried the goals for the team, but equally got more and more greedy the more he scored. Cisse has struggled through tactical mishandling, and the loss of Cabaye and Ben Arfa has put chances to a premium, despite the great efforts of Slyvain Marveaux. While the above makes it sound like the end is high for Newcastle, Pardew still possesses the same elements that brought the side into the Top 5. Pardew should draw upon this. The defence was impeccable in the early stages of the season, and this was in large due to two midfielders, usually Cabaye and Tiote, lying deep to provide extra cover to the defence. With the current situation, a return to this will alleviate the huge amount of pressure on the back line. In midfield, keeping it simple is the key. Newcastle’s inadequacy with the ball is alarming, short simple passes should be encouraged, rather than the hit and hope long balls, the return of Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa should help encourage better possession. Up top, the solution is seen by most Newcastle fans. Newcastle were lethal in a 4-3-3 and brought the best of Cisse to the team, a return to that should improve goal scoring efforts. Corners and free kicks have largely been wasted since Carroll’s departure, suggests that Newcastle should just keep it simple, merely keep the ball in motion, rather than gifting it back to the opposition. Pardew is perfectly correct in bemoaning injuries, it has effected the team, but there is no excuse for tactics, and failure of the basics. Good teams are built upon getting the basics right, Newcastle desperately need to apply this to defending, set pieces and possession.

Newcastle United have the quality to compete and survive, but much work is needed to return Newcastle to its effective best.