Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Who's Next for Wales as Cookie Crumbles?

It ended as it began, with a whimper. Following what was the most successful- on paper- tenure of any Welsh national team manager, Chris Coleman's side looked out of answers against an Ireland side who believed- apparently correctly- that they could kick, elbow and head-butt their way to the World Cup finals in Russia. The World Cup's "controversial" hosts and at least one of those they are set to welcome should get on like a house on fire.

But while fans may be embittered by the fundamental lack of sportsmanship exhibited by their Celtic cousins, and the desperate failure of the officials to curb their excesses on the night, neither of these iniquities can mask the truth that the man who will go down in history as the first to take Wales to the semi-finals of a major championship looked at a complete loss in combating some fairly basic tactics.
Coleman's contract is set to expire and, upon signing it during Euro 2016, he had intimated he would depart following the Russia campaign come what may, perhaps seeking a new challenge in European club football, looking to improve upon disappointing experiences in both Greece and Spain. He now claims he will think about his options, presumably, as he sees it, including the possibility of prolonging his stay.

However, the FAW should now be bold in seeking a new captain for their ship. Accept that the man who (whether through design or mere good fortune) led them to a European Championship semi-final has exhausted most of his best ideas. The structure behind the first team has been radically revamped in the last decade, and much of their on-field success may be attributed to it, perhaps even more so than Coleman's efforts.

As such they should embrace similarly radical thinking for his replacement, and not wed themsleves to the same handful of names served up by the tabloid media at times of change, seeking out a new man with the vision and energy to take the team to the next level. Here are three potential candidates to take up the helm in a newly emboldened era of Welsh international football.

CAMERON TOSHACK: His more famous footballing father may not have had the success he would have hoped managing his country between 2004 and 2010, but it is his emphasis on youth development and expanding squad depth that arguably laid the base for Coleman's recent achievements.
After working for Wales as a performance analyst under said parent, Cameron Toshack has quietly built up a reputation as a knowledgable coach in his own right and will soon be celebrating 5 years at Swansea City where he has been a key figure in developing the club's youth system.

Whereas the senior side have struggled in recent seasons, Toshack's Under 23 side have reached the highest level of competitive reserve football, and made it to the quarter-final of the Checkatrade Trophy. All the while staying true to the 'Swansea Way' the club cultivated under Roberto Martinez but which first team coaches have seemed oddly incapable of bringing back to the Liberty.

Perhaps unlikely to be offered a first team role in club football anytime soon, Cameron Toshack would likely jump at the chance to reach that major finals his father was never able to attain.

MARK SAMPSON: Flagged as a real up and coming talent on the coaching scene when Roberto Martinez picked him as the head of Swansea's centre of excellence at just 24, Sampson went on to take Bristol's lady's team to two consecutive FA Cup finals before being appointed as manager of England Women, with whom he went to the semi-final of the 2015 World Cup.
Despite this record achievement, Sampson became the centre of a furore when it emerged he had been accused of  several racist comments by a player he had dropped, Eniola Aluko. Despite the fact that an FA investigation had completely exonerated him, scrutiny intensified, and when it emerged that he had once had a relationship with one of his players at Bristol Academy, the PR obsessed Football Association quickly and removed Sampson, despite his success and popularity with the squad.

With an excellent reputation for his tactical nous and his experience of international tournament football, Wales could stage a real coup on their old enemy by welcoming him back into the game, provided they are strong enough to face down ideological media and political interests to which their prissy neighbours capitulated.

CARL ROBINSON: Along with his namesake Carl Fletcher, became something of a cult figure among long-suffering Wales fans under John Toshack's management, through which he served selflessly and without complaint while many of his contemporaries flounced off into early retirement, unhappy with the post-Mark Hughes regime.
After amassing 52 international caps and hundreds of games in the football league for the likes of Norwich and Wolves, Robinson's playing career enjoyed a rather unusual ending as he headed for the MLS and enjoyed a successful spell at Toronto, before an incongruous final season at New York Red Bulls where he played alongside the likes of Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez.

With his playing career at a close, he leapt at the chance to head back to Canada to assume his first managerial position as assistant coach of Vancouver Whitecaps. The following season he was promoted to head coach where his reputation has blossomed. Readily discussed by MLS observers as one of the coach of the season contenders, Robinson is much revered by the Whitecaps' faithful who admire his ability to eke all he can out of the club's meagre resources.

Although plainly loving the lifestyle in Canada, the improvement in wages and the chance to manage his country would doubtless be too much for Robbo to turn down were the FAW to make an approach. And after his loyalty to Wales through the bad times, he surely deserves a chance to enjoy them during the good times if he can show that  he shares the association's vision. 

Friday, 3 February 2017


"...the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep..."

Or so it was at the beginning of the universe, according to the book of Genesis. And, as bleak as this image of a world before light, time, and life itself may be, it can't reasonably be said to be worse than the incalcitrant turgidity of the 2017 January transfer window. 

Make deadline day great again.
Transfer speculation is possiby the most frivolous aspect of the most frivolous of passtimes that is following Premier League football and, as such, often provides a distraction from the more grave or banal minutiae of real world affairs. Transfer deadline day this past 31st January however had football fans consulting Donald Trump's twitter timeline, or watching another of Tim Farron's impotent Commons rants over Brexit in search of a distraction from the abyss that was Jim White's- now traditional- bi-annual countdown to the winter window "slamming shut".

Of the "Top Six"- as they are now obliged to be called- not one single first team player passed in through the doors. Arsenal once again determined that they might claim their first league title since Jose Antonio Reyes was a top prospect without a world class striker. World class strikers being something Arsene Wenger now regards as a hateful myth to impugn the abilities of his scouting staff and his own oil tanker-like maouvering in the transfer market. 

Arsenal scout tries to woo a world class striker.
North London neighbours Spurs predictably failed to learn the lesson of last season by once again failing to strengthen, the Gollum of Premier League football chairmen, Daniel Levy, jealously guarding his father-in-law's many millions like the inheretance he knows might be riding on it.

Daniel Levy
Despite an adolescent tantrum, the like of which he typically reserves for the pitch, Diego Costa was tamed by Antonio Conte, meaning that Chelsea did not need to pay over the odds for reinforcements up front, and will now wait til the summer, as Michy Batshuayi continues to gather dust on the bench like some forgotten but expensive family heir loom in the corner of a lightless attic.

There was more moderate activity in the middle of the table where Stoke City finally paid West Brom the £15m ransom fee for the release of Saido Berahino. It reamains to be seen what psychological scars the striker will bring with him to The Potteries. Terry Waite may have been chained to a radiator for five years, but at least he wasn't forced to watch The Baggies by Tony Pulis.

Saido Berahino is brought in for his medical.

No, it was near the bottom where the only true signs of life were to be found, though the haunted expression on David Moyes' face is unlikely to be much softened by the additions of Bryan Oviedo, Daron Gibson and Joleon Lescott, the latter pair now so many years from their halcyon days of being mediocre players at successful clubs that it is a surprise to learn that they haven't been at Sunderland for years.

Still, at least the chairman secured an improbable £14m fee from fellow strugglers Crystal Palace. Things have failed to change for the better with sufficient alacrity under former England manager and latent butcher Sam Allardyce, and the club threw around £40m at the situation in the hope of survival. In addition to permanent signings (which included two left-backs) came Mamadou Sakho on loan. The tardy Frenchman having yet to play a game this season having fallen out with sexy German hipster-tramp Jurgen Klopp in the summer.

Sakho is known to have taught French to youngsters in Liverpool, lucky for James Tomkins who will have learnt the expression, "For the love of Christ, get goal-side!" in good time for his holidays.

Perennial Galactico managerial bridesmaid Paul Clement took over a Swansea side badly in need of reinforcements. His squad, top heavy with good technical- if flaky and lightweight- midfielders and quick but hopelessly inconsisent wingers and immediately set about adding a couple more in the shape of Tom Carroll from Spurs and Luciano Narsingh from PSV. An unfathomably long-term target arrived in the shape of Martin Olsson arrived from Norwich, who despite relatively mediocre ability, looks like Roberto Carlos to Swans' fans in comparison to the chancers that have occupied their left-back berth in recent seasons.

Jordan Ayew
The entire Swansea City transfer window outlay is unlikely to be in excess of £12m, which will please penny-pinching Chairman Huw Jenkins, whose 2011 halo has slipped so far it looks like a noose. However, he did exhibit a little of the old magic by finally ushering annual British Asian Footballer of the Year winner Neil Taylor out of the door to Aston Villa. And all he had to do in return was take Jordan Ayew (very much the Peter Hitchens of the Ayew brothers) off their hands. There wasn't a better deal this window.

And that was basically it. Claudio Ranieri continued his post title winning comedown at Leicester with his third doomed attempt in 6 months at replacing N'Golo Kante; Aitor Karanka at Boro sulkily acquired a couple of Championship strikers in preparation for next season, and Watford managed to flog Odion Ighalo to China for £20m on the basis of three good months at the start of last season. The whole thing had a sort of listless slightly anxious feel to it, like a Sunday night ITV comedy drama. 

Sky Sports News auditions.
And, yet, despite promising ourselves we won't, we'll do it all again in the summer. Jim White and his tie, and whichever glamour model they've recently captured and taught to read sat next to him; endless regurgitated speculation in tabloids and on blogs; multiple anonymous ITK wankers posing as secret football agents; Arsene Wenger pretending there are no strikers in the world, but he really has the money to buy one should he turn up, honest; and Manchester United spending the GDP of North Korea to finish sixth.

And if, as ever, it disappoints, there's always Trump's twitter feed... God help us all...

Fuck it...

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Swansea City: 3 Candidates to Replace Garry Monk

The axe fell with some inevitability on Garry Monk on Wednesday afternoon. With Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins telling the press just 24 hours earlier that "something has to change", it had become a question of when and not if Monk would depart.

Contrary to the common media narrative of a club "hitting the panic button" after a sharp downturn in form, a gradual deterioration of the team's style of play and lack of an overriding vision had seen concerns build amongst fans, the board, and- most worryingly- a seemingly bemused and frustrated first team squad.

Even last season, when praise was being lavished upon the former Swansea captain, the expansive and attractive football for which the team were famed and lauded since the arrival of Roberto Martinez had all but vanished, despite having the most accomplished- and highly paid- squad in the club's history. Only a tight defensive unit and the endeavours of outstanding individuals elevated the team to an improbable eighth position.

With the disintegration of that previously near impregnable defence, Monk's position became untenable, and the club will now seek out a man who can restore the footballing values which became integral to Swansea as a global brand. They will also require someone who possesses sufficient pedigree that- in the short term- Premier League status next season will be assured.

Here are three potential candidates that might fulfil the board's criteria:

Marcelo Bielsa:
A manager once described by Pep Guardiola as "the best in the world", Bielsa's reputation as a coach is beyond reproach. In an era where managers are praised as "students of the game", the Argentine is the nearest the sport has to a professor.

Bielsa allies intensity and peerless tactical knowledge with a disciplinarian's fastidiousness and rigour. Should the squad and staff of Swansea need shaking up, Bielsa isn't a man who would think twice about doing so.

His teams are known for their high tempo and fearless attacking philosophy, which would surely delight the fans starved of such excitement over the last 18 months. He is also unattached and could join the club immediately, the only question being whether Huw Jenkins and co. could accommodate the needs of one of the most demanding managers in the game.

Lucien Favre:
The enigmatic Swiss would be an choice out of left-field, but he certainly possesses many of the qualities that would lend himself to the best of the club's recent traditions.

Like Bielsa, he is a fastidious individual with an exhaustive knowledge of the game and a complete vision of how each position on the pitch should be played according to the system selected. His appointment would almost certainly herald a return to the high-tempo passing football that characterised Swansea's ascent, and his renowned ability to develop young players and thrive on a modest budget would be attractive to the board.

The one potential drawback is that the enigmatic qualities that make him an attractive proposition could also see him become a target of the predatory English media should the team stutter. He has also been known to depart abruptly after sudden slumps, as he did at previous club Mönchengladbach, leaving their chairman despairing at losing a man whom he regarded as the club's best ever manager.

Phillip Cocu:
Less celebrated than his former Dutch team mate and managerial sparring partner Frank De Boer, Cocu goes about his business in very much the same way as he did as a player: unassuming, intelligent, and squeezing every last drop out of the talent and resources made available to him

An impeccable CV as a player saw him win over 100 caps for the Netherlands, five league titles- including one with Barcelona in La Liga- and his managerial apprenticeship took him to a World Cup final as assistant manager. Cocu is a man with exceptional experience at the very top level.

He was typically patient and calculated in preparing for his chance in the hot-seat at Eindhoven, where he has been universally praised for the consistent quality of his team's football, and his role in developing young talents like Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay.

Although still under contract, the compensation would be affordable for the Swans, and having had much of his young team sold from under him last summer, he may think this is the right time- and Swansea the right club- to chance his arm in a major European league. His considered manner and relative youth mean he could be attractive as a stabilising and long-term solution for the Swansea City board.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Castaignos to try his Luc with Swans?

Dutch striker Luc Castaignos has once again been linked with Swansea City, and the 22 year old seems keen to rebuild his career slowly but surely, after a false start with Inter Milan.

Luc Castaignos knows a thing or two about the burden of expectation in football. The all time record goal scorer for the Netherlands Under 17 team made his Eredividsie debut at just 16. Within 18 months, and having scored 15 first choice goals for Feyenoord, the tall elegant striker had drawn comparisons with Thierry Henry and was swiftly purchased by Milanese giants Internazionale.
It was all too much far too soon, and his only season at the San Siro was a miserable one, chracterised by indiscipline and injury, and culminating in a single goal from just eight first team appearences. However, despite his insistence he would only depart Inter for a 'big club', rumoured transfers to Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur- among others- never came to fruition, and he found himself back in his homeland with FC Twente.
In that time Castaignos slowly rebuilt his career and reputation, and despite a handful of niggling injuries and being part of a club in the midst of a financial crisis, has averaged a goal every other game in the previous two seasons. Both the player and his club now seem resigned to parting company, and Swansea City- who are reported to have been scouting the player for some time- are keen to proceed with a transfer for what could potentially be a bargain price.

The Netherlands have been a happy hunting ground for the scouts of Welsh club, and chairman Huw Jenkins is keen to make Castaignos yet another in a series of successful investments, including goalkeeper Michel Worm and previous star striker, Wilfried Bony. The Dutchman could provide much needed competition to Bafetimbi Gomis whose perfomances since Bony's departure- despite good recent goalscoring form- have been adequate rather than outstanding.

Wary of repeating the international misadventures of his teens, the player has publically conceded he is not ready for the Champion's League's elite sides: “At the end of this season I will have to choose, partly because it makes FC Twente healthier. I want to go abroad, preferably to a nice top performer in England or Germany, so I can get used to the league. I have enough self-knowledge to know that I’m not ready for the real top.”

Given their long-standing interest, and the way in which they helped develop the career of powerhouse forward Wilfried Bony, Swansea City would seem to be in pole position to entice Castaignos. A player who, despite his depth of experience, has yet to reach his twenty-third birthday. Certainly, if he could emulate a fraction of his Ivorian predecessor's success, could represent yet another bargain for which the South Wales club has become famous in its recent ascendency.